Between the extremes of optimal health and death from starvation or malnutrition, there is an array of disease states that can be caused or alleviated by changes in diet. Deficiencies, excesses, and imbalances in diet can produce negative impacts on health, which may lead to various health problems such as scurvy, obesity, or osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases as well as psychological and behavioral problems. The science of nutrition attempts to understand how and why specific dietary aspects influence health.
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.
Dietary habits play a significant role in the health and mortality of all humans. Imbalances between the consumed fuels and expended energy results in either starvation or excessive reserves of adipose tissue, known as body fat. Poor intake of various vitamins and minerals can lead to diseases that can have far-reaching effects on health. For instance, 30% of the world's population either has, or is at risk for developing, iodine deficiency. It is estimated that at least 3 million children are blind due to vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy. Calcium, Vitamin D, and phosphorus are inter-related; the consumption of each may affect the absorption of the others. Kwashiorkor and marasmus are childhood disorders caused by lack of dietary protein.
Some foods not from animal or plant sources include various edible fungi, especially mushrooms. Fungi and ambient bacteria are used in the preparation of fermented and pickled foods like leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha, and yogurt. Another example is blue-green algae such as Spirulina. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.