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Nutrition has been an important concern to people throughout the world for millennia, and the use of food as medicine has been recognized throughout recorded history. In India, the form of medicine known as Ayurveda, which tailors diets to individuals to cure or to maintain health, has been practiced for as long as 5,000 years. Traditional Chinese medicine, which is approximately as old as Ayurveda, makes use of many dietary recommendations and proscriptions. Both forms of medicine are still widely used in their countries of origin, and both have spread to other parts of the world.

In ancient Greece, philosophers and healers noted the connection between diet and health, and ultimately it was the Greek practice of careful observation and research that gave rise to the scientific method, on which modern Western nutrition is based. It should be understood, however, that observation and research were also important parts of virtually all other medical traditions.

A major breakthrough in nutrition occurred in the 18th century, when the French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier began to study the way the body uses food energy, or calories. He also examined the relationship between heat production and the use of energy, and his work has caused him to be known as the "father of nutrition."

By the early 20th century, vitamins had been studied, and the relationship between diets and certain illnesses came to be understood. By 1940, most vitamins and minerals had been discovered and studied, and the field of nutrition had made tremendous strides. Since that time, advances in technology have enabled scientists to learn far more about nutrition than was possible earlier. At present, much is known, but much remains to be learned. It often happens that one study contradicts another regarding the benefits or dangers of certain foods.

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