It is common for many people to use the terms “food” and “nutrition” interchangeably ; however, although the two are closely related, they do not mean the same thing.

Nutrition is a vital process for human beings, through which our body takes advantage of the nutrients we have ingested so that the organism functions correctly, for example, so that the cells remain alive and have the necessary energy to do their job well. Although we sometimes talk about human nutrition, animals and plants are also nourished. As we will see later on, it is possible to talk about different forms of nutrition: autotrophic nutrition or heterotrophic nutrition are some examples.

On the other hand, food is composed of actions that we carry out consciously and voluntarily, which aim to select, prepare and eat food.

In the following lines we will go into more detail on the difference between food and nutrition and explain the different types that exist.

What are nutrients and foods

To understand the difference between food and nutrition, it is ideal to start by understanding the difference between food and nutrient. Food is any nutritive substance or product intended to be ingested by humans, whether it has been fully transformed or not (for example, if it has been cooked).

Food includes:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Milk and its derivatives
  • Meats and sausages
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Cereals
  • Dried fruit
  • Sugars, sweets and sweetened drinks
  • Oils and Fats
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Water
  • Gum (According to the European Parliament, 2002)

Not included: feed, live animals (except those marketed for human consumption, e.g. oysters), pre-harvest plants, medicines or cosmetics.

Instead, nutrients are the substances found in food that are useful for organic metabolism . Nutrients are classified into macronutrients and micronutrients. The former include proteins, carbohydrates and lipids; the latter vitamins and minerals. Some experts include water in the group of nutrients, but exclude alcohol.

The concept of nutrition

According to the definition of nutrients, nutrition is the unconscious and involuntary processes by which the body digests, transforms and makes use of the above-mentioned nutrients. It also includes the process of eliminating substances that are part of the ingested food and that are not needed by the body.

Nutrition is key to life, since without food and water, we would die. Having said this, one cannot speak of bad or good nutrition, as this would refer to food. If it is possible, however, to speak of poor nutrition.

On the other hand, there are two essential types of nutrition: autotrophic and heterotrophic.

1. Autotrophic nutrition

It occurs when a living being feeds after synthesizing inorganic substances . That is, it can only be done by those living beings that manage to produce their own food, for example, plants through photosynthesis (these living beings are called photolithoautotroph) or some bacteria that use chemical elements and are called chemolithophs. For example: bacteria.

2. Heterotrophic nutrition

Heterotrophic living beings need an elaborate food source . Humans and other animals, fungi and many microorganisms belong to this group.

Heterotrophic nutrition can be divided into :

  • Parasitic nutrition: a living being lives inside another that it feeds on and at the same time it harms.
  • Saprophytic nutrition: a living being obtains nutrients from the environment and decomposes them thanks to the action of enzymes.
  • Holozoic nutrition: that of humans. You eat solid food and then digest it to get the nutrients you need.

There are three types of holozoic nutrition :

  • Herbivorous nutrition: the living being eats vegetables.
  • Carnivorous nutrition: the living being eats meat.
  • Omnivorous nutrition: the living being eats vegetables and meat.

Herbivorous nutrition differs from vegetarian nutrition, because herbivorous nutrition is that in which the organism is biologically prepared to break down vegetables; and vegetarian nutrition is that in which the person chooses to eat vegetables.

Food: why it’s not the same as nutrition

After looking at the example above, it is clear that feeding is a conscious and voluntary process, in which the person chooses what to eat and how to eat it. Likewise, eating is an educable and modifiable act throughout life, which allows for a change in habits.

Some types of feeding are:

  • Infant feeding : that which focuses on obtaining the best feeding for children who are growing up.
  • Feeding of pregnant women : the most appropriate for the process of pregnancy.
  • Sports nutrition : a selection of foods that allow maximizing the energy level and muscle recovery of individuals who practice sports or do physical exercise.
  • Healthy eating : the eating habits or customs that help to have a life with greater physical health.
  • Vegetarianism : Vegetarianism is an ideology that influences eating habits, as these people basically consume vegetables and fruits. In addition to strict vegetarians, there are lacto-ovo vegetarians, who consume eggs and dairy in addition to vegetables; and lacto-vegetarians, who only take dairy in their diet in addition to vegetables…
  • Veganism : is the ideology of not eating food products of animal origin, that is, not eating meat and fish products, nor eggs, dairy products or honey, but it goes beyond food; nothing that comes from animals is consumed.

Classification of nutrients

If you want to know more about the different types of nutrients that exist, you can read these articles:

  • The 20 types of protein and their functions in the body
  • Types of fats (good and bad) and their functions
  • Types of vitamins: functions and benefits for your body