Communication between the Old World and the New World in the Columbian Exchange influenced the history of cooking. The movement of foods across the Atlantic, from the New World, such as potatoes, tomatoes, maize, beans, bell pepper, chili pepper, vanilla, pumpkin, cassava, avocado, peanut, pecan, cashew, pineapple, blueberry, sunflower, chocolate, gourds, and squash, had a profound effect on Old World cooking. The movement of foods across the Atlantic, from the Old World, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, wheat, oats, barley, rice, apples, pears, peas, chickpeas, green beans, mustard, and carrots, similarly changed New World cooking.
Many individuals limit what foods they eat for reasons of morality, or other habit. For instance, vegetarians choose to forgo food from animal sources to varying degrees. Others choose a healthier diet, avoiding sugars or animal fats and increasing consumption of dietary fiber and antioxidants. Obesity, a serious problem in the western world, leads to higher chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other diseases. More recently, dietary habits have been influenced by the concerns that some people have about possible impacts on health or the environment from genetically modified food. Further concerns about the impact of industrial farming (grains) on animal welfare, human health, and the environment are also having an effect on contemporary human dietary habits. This has led to the emergence of a movement with a preference for organic and local food.
Health food is food marketed to provide human health effects beyond a normal healthy diet required for human nutrition. Foods marketed as health foods may be part of one or more categories, such as natural foods, organic foods, whole foods, vegetarian foods or dietary supplements. These products may be sold in health food stores or in the health food or organic sections of grocery stores.
Cooking can prevent many foodborne illnesses that would otherwise occur if the food is eaten raw. When heat is used in the preparation of food, it can kill or inactivate harmful organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as various parasites such as tapeworms and Toxoplasma gondii. Food poisoning and other illness from uncooked or poorly prepared food may be caused by bacteria such as pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium and Campylobacter, viruses such as noroviruses, and protozoa such as Entamoeba histolytica. Bacteria, viruses and parasites may be introduced through salad, meat that is uncooked or done rare, and unboiled water.
Vegetables are a second type of plant matter that is commonly eaten as food. These include root vegetables (potatoes and carrots), bulbs (onion family), leaf vegetables (spinach and lettuce), stem vegetables (bamboo shoots and asparagus), and inflorescence vegetables (globe artichokes and broccoli and other vegetables such as cabbage or cauliflower).