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Food is composed of various substances and is the basis for metabolism and thus for life. In heterotrophs (mostly animals), food contains energy-rich organic compounds. In autotrophs (mostly plants), we also speak of nutrients - these then do not contain energy-rich organic substances. Components of food for humans, such as bread, meat and sausage products, vegetables, fruit or cereals, are referred to as food.

In animals with a digestive tract, food is usually broken down into its components mechanically (e.g. by chewing) and chemically (e.g. by gastric acid) after it has been absorbed into the body. The energy stored in certain food components is used in energy metabolism to maintain a constant body temperature in warm-blooded animals, for example. Furthermore, the energy from food is used in anabolic metabolism (anabolism or building metabolism) to maintain and build up the body (e.g. growth in children or muscle development in adults).

Water and salts also belong to food, even if they cannot be used directly in energy metabolism. Food includes vitamins, which are essential compounds that cannot be synthesized by some species. The lack of food is called starvation and can lead to the death of a living being.