Consuming a nutritious diet throughout one's life helps avoid malnutrition in all of its manifestations, as well as a variety of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and disorders. However, increasing processed food production, growing urbanization, and changing lifestyles have resulted in a change in dietary habits. Individuals are increasingly eating meals that are rich in calories, fat, free sugars, and salt/sodium, and many people do not consume enough fruit, vegetables, and other sources of dietary fiber, such as whole grains.
A diverse, balanced, and nutritious diet will vary in composition according to individual characteristics (e.g., age, gender, lifestyle, and level of physical activity), cultural context, locally accessible foods, and dietary traditions. However, the fundamental principles governing what makes a healthy diet have not changed.
A balanced diet should contain the following:
- Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts, and whole grains all contribute to a healthy diet (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, and brown rice).
- A minimum of 400 grams (five pieces) of fruit and vegetables each day, omitting potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other starchy roots.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake should come from free sugars, which is about 50 g (or about 12 level teaspoons) for an adult of normal weight eating approximately 2000 calories per day but should ideally be less than 5% of total energy intake for extra health advantages. Sugars added to foods or beverages by the manufacturer, chef, or customer, as well as sugars naturally occurring in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates, are considered free sugars.
- Less than 30% of total calorie consumption should come from fats. Unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado, and nuts, as well as sunflower, soybean, canola, and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee, and lard) and trans fats of all types, including industrially produced trans fats (found in baked and fried foods, as well as pre-packaged snacks and foods such as frozen pizza, pies, cookies, and bistro (found in meat and dairy foods from ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, and camels). It is recommended that saturated fats account for less than 10% of total energy consumption and trans fats account for fewer than 1% of total energy intake. Trans-fats, in particular, are not a component of a healthy diet and should be avoided.
- Consume less than 5 g of salt (about 1 teaspoon) each day (8). Iodized salt should be used.
To be used with babies and little children
An optimal diet throughout the first two years of a child's life promotes healthy growth and cognitive development. Additionally, it lowers the chance of becoming overweight or obese later in life and having NCDs.
Infants and children's nutrition advice is comparable to that for adults, however, the following components are also critical:
- During the first six months of life, infants should be entirely breastfed.
- Infants should be nursed exclusively until they reach the age of two and beyond.
- Breast milk should be supplemented with a range of sufficient, safe, and nutrient-dense meals beginning at six months of age. Salt and sweets should be avoided while preparing complementing meals.
Suggestions for keeping a healthy diet
Vegetables and fruits
Consuming at least 400 g, or five pieces, of fruit and vegetables per day lowers the risk of NCDs and contributes to a daily dietary fiber intake that is sufficient.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables may be increased by:
Always include veggies in your meals; snack on fresh fruit and raw vegetables; consume seasonal fruit and vegetables, and eat a variety of fruit and vegetables.
Limiting total fat consumption to less than 30% of total calorie intake helps avoid harmful weight gain in adults. Additionally, the chance of acquiring NCDs is decreased by the following:
decreasing saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy intake; reducing trans fats to less than 1% of total energy intake, and substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats and trans fats.
Consumption of fat, particularly saturated fat and industrially generated trans fat, may be decreased by:
- When cooking, use steaming or broiling rather than frying;
- Substituting oils rich in polyunsaturated fats for butter, lard, and ghee, such as soybean, canola (rapeseed), corn, safflower, and sunflower oils; eating reduced-fat dairy products and lean meats, or trimming visible fat from meat; and limiting baked and fried foods, as well as pre-packaged snacks and foods (e.g. doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits, and wafer
Sodium, potassium, and salt
The majority of individuals eat too much sodium via salt (about 9–12 g of salt per day) and not enough potassium (less than 3.5 g). Consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium contributes to high blood pressure, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reduce salt consumption to the recommended daily limit of less than 5 g may save 1.7 million deaths each year.
Individuals are often ignorant of their salt intake. In many nations, the majority of salt is obtained through processed foods (e.g., ready meals; processed meats such as bacon, ham, and salami; cheese; and salty snacks) or from foods eaten in high quantities on a regular basis (e.g. bread). Additionally, salt is added to meals during the cooking process (for example, bouillon, stock cubes, soy sauce, and fish sauce) or at the time of consumption (e.g. table salt).
Consumption of salt may be decreased by:
reducing the quantity of salt and high-sodium condiments (e.g., soy sauce, fish sauce, and bouillon) used in cooking and preparation; eliminating salt and high-sodium sauces from the table; limiting salty snacks intake, and selecting goods with lower sodium content.
Certain food producers are reformulating recipes to lower the salt level of their goods, and consumers should be urged to read nutrition labels before buying or eating a product to determine its sodium content.
Potassium may help counteract the detrimental effects of increased salt intake on blood pressure. Consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables may help to improve potassium intake.
Both adults and children should limit their consumption of free sugars to less than 10% of total calorie intake. Additional health advantages would result in a decrease of less than 5% of total energy consumption.
Consumption of unrefined sugars increases the chance of developing dental caries (tooth decay). Excess calories from sugar-sweetened meals and beverages contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which may result in overweight and obesity. Additionally, recent research indicates that free sugars have an effect on blood pressure and serum lipids and that reducing free sugars consumption lowers risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Sugar consumption may be decreased by:
restricting consumption of sugary snacks, candies, and sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e. all types of beverages containing free sugars – these include carbonated or noncarbonated soft drinks, fruit or vegetable juices and drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavored water, energy, and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea, and ready-to-drink coffee).
Diet changes throughout time, shaped by a variety of social and economic variables that interact intricately to determine individual eating habits. These variables include income, food costs (which influence the availability and affordability of nutritious meals), personal preferences and beliefs, cultural traditions, as well as geographical and environmental factors (including climate change). Thus, creating a healthy food environment – including food systems that encourage a varied, balanced, and nutritious diet – necessitates the collaboration of various sectors and stakeholders, including the government, as well as the public and commercial sectors.