A healthy diet is essential to avoid malnutrition. However, the rapid growth of processed foods and urbanization have caused a shift in dietary patterns. Many people don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, or other dietary fiber like whole grains, which are all high in calories, fats and free sugars.
Individual characteristics such as age, gender, lifestyle, physical activity, cultural context, etc. will affect the exact composition of a balanced, healthy, varied diet. Individual characteristics (e.g., gender, lifestyle and level of physical activity), cultural context and local foods and dietary habits, will all affect the composition of a balanced, healthy diet. The basic principles of healthy eating remain the same.
These are the essential ingredients of a healthy diet:
- Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. Lentils and beans, nuts, whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize and millet, oats or wheat, and brown rice
- Minimum 400g (i.e. At least 400 g (i.e. five portions) of fruits and vegetables daily, except potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other starchy root foods.
- For a healthy person who consumes approximately 2000 calories per day, less than 10% of their total energy intake is from free sugars in their Diet and Nutrition. However, ideally, it should be less than 5% to reap the health benefits. All sugars that are added to food or beverages by the consumer, manufacturer, or cook. This includes sugars naturally found in honey, syrups and fruit juice concentrates.
- Fats account for less than 30% of total energy intake. Unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado, and nuts, and in 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 kinds, including both industrially-produced trans-fats (found in baked and fried foods, and pre-packaged snacks and foods, such as frozen pizza, pies, cookies, biscuits, wafers, and cooking oils and spreads) and ruminant trans-fats (found in meat and dairy foods from ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, and camels). It is recommended that saturated fats are reduced to less 10% and transfats to less 1% of total calories. In particular, industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided.
- Limit to 5g per day (equivalent of about 1 teaspoon). Salt should not be iodized.
For infants and young kids
Optimized nutrition is crucial for healthy growth and cognitive development in the first two years of a child’s life. This reduces the likelihood of developing NCDs later in your life, and also lowers your risk of becoming obese or overweight.
The advice on healthy eating habits for children and infants is the same as that for adults. However, it is important to consider the following:
- Breastfeeding infants should be done exclusively in the first six months of their lives.
- Breastfeeding infants should continue until they reach 2 years old.
- Breast milk should be supplemented with a variety nutritious, safe, and adequate foods starting at 6 months. Complementary foods should not contain salt or sugar.
Here are some practical tips for maintaining a healthy diet
Vegetables and fruits
Aiming to eat at least 400g or five portions of fruits and vegetables each day will reduce the risk of developing NCDs. It also helps ensure a sufficient daily intake of dietary fibre.
You can increase your fruit and vegetable intake by:
- always including vegetables in meals;
- As snacks, eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables in season are best.
- You can eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
To prevent overweight weight gain in adults, it is important to reduce total fat intake to 30% of total energy intake. The risk of developing NCDs can also be reduced by:
- Reduce saturated fats to less that 10% of your total energy intake in your Diet and Nutrition.
- Reduce trans fats to less that 1% of total energy intake
- Both trans-fats and saturated fats can be replaced with unsaturated fats, in particular with polyunsaturated oils.
Fat intake, especially saturated fat and industrially-produced trans-fat intake, can be reduced by:
- When cooking, steaming or boiling is better than frying.
- Replace butter, lard and ghee by oils rich in polyunsaturated oils, such as soybeans, canola (rapeseed), corn and safflower oils.
- Reduced-fat dairy products and lean meats; or trimming visible fat from meat.
- Limiting the intake of baked and fried foods and prepackaged snacks and food (e.g. doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits, and wafers) that contain industrially-produced trans-fats.
Salt, sodium, and potassium
The majority of people consume too many sodium via salt, which means that they consume an average of 9-12 grams of salt per day and not enough potassium (less then 3.5 g). Insufficient potassium intake and high sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure which increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
A reduction in salt intake of 5g or less per day could save 1.7 million lives each year.
Salt intake is often overlooked by people. Most salt in many countries comes from processed foods, such as salami and bacon. Ready meals, processed meats like bacon, salami, and salami, cheese, and salty snacks are all sources of salt. bread). Salt can also be added to food during cooking (e.g. Stock cubes, stock cubes and soy sauce are all ways to add salt to foods. Table salt
Salt intake can be lowered by:
- Limiting salt and high-sodium condiments such as salt, fish sauce, and bouillon (e.g. When cooking or preparing food, limit the use of salt and high-sodium condiments (e.g., soy sauce, fish oil, and bouillon).
- It is not a good idea to have high-sodium sauces or salt on the table.
- Limiting salty snacks is a good idea.
- Choose products that have lower sodium levels
Food manufacturers may alter recipes in order to lower the sodium content of their products and the Diet and Nutrition they provide. People should check nutrition labels before buying or consuming any food product.
Potassium can reduce the adverse effects of high sodium intake on blood pressure. Fresh fruits and vegetables can increase potassium intake.
Both adults and children should limit their intake of sugars to 10% of their total energy intake. Additional health benefits could be achieved by reducing the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake.
Sugars that are not sugary can increase the likelihood of tooth decay (dental caries). In addition to causing obesity and overweight, excessive intake of sugary foods and beverages can also lead to an unhealthy weight. Recent research also suggests that excess sugars can influence blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels, which could lead to cardiovascular disease risk factors.
You can reduce sugar intake by:
- Limiting the intake of high-sugar foods and beverages, such as sugary snacks, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e. All beverages that contain no sugars. This includes carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks as well as fruit juices and drinks.
- Instead of snacking on sugary snacks, eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
How to promote healthy eating habits
The way we eat changes over time. This is due to many factors, including economic and social. These factors include income, food costs (which can affect the affordability and availability of healthy foods), individual preferences, beliefs, cultural traditions, as well as geographical and environmental factors (including climate change). Promoting a healthy food environment, which includes food systems that encourage a balanced, healthy diet, requires multiple stakeholders and sectors to be involved, including the government and the private and public sectors.
The government plays a key role in creating healthy food environments that encourage healthy eating habits. These are some of the most effective policy-makers’ actions to create a healthy environment for food:
- To promote healthy eating habits and public health, create coherence between national policies and investment plans, including trade and food policies.
- Increasing incentives for retailers and producers to grow, use and sell fresh fruits and vegetables
- Reduce incentives for the food sector to increase or continue production of processed foods high in saturated fats, trans-fats and free sugars.
- encouraging reformulation of food products to reduce the contents of saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars, and salt/sodium, with the goal of eliminating industrially-produced trans-fats;
- Implementing the WHO recommendations regarding the marketing of food and non-alcoholic drinks to children
- Establishing standards for healthy dietary practices by ensuring that healthy, nutritious, safe, and affordable food is available in schools, pre-schools, public institutions, and at work;
- Exploring regulatory and voluntary tools (e.g. Marketing regulations and nutrition labeling policies, as well as economic incentives or disincentives (e.g. Taxation and subsidies to encourage healthy eating habits;
- Encourage transnational, national, and local food service and catering outlets to improve their nutritional quality – ensuring that healthy options are available and affordable – and reviewing portion sizes and pricing.
- Encourage consumers to eat healthy food and meals by:
- Promoting awareness among consumers about a healthy diet
- School policies and programs that encourage healthy eating habits and good nutrition should be developed.
- Education of children, adolescents, as well as adults on nutrition and healthy eating habits;
- Encouragement of culinary skills in schools and children
- Supporting point-of-sale information, including nutrition labelling that ensures accurate and standardized information about the nutrient content in foods (according to the Codex Alimentarius Commission Guidelines), with front-of-pack labeling to aid consumer understanding;
- Primary healthcare facilities can provide nutrition and dietary counseling.
- Adequate infant and young child nutrition practices are promoted through:
- Implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and any subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions pertinent;
- Implementing policies and practices that promote the protection and well-being of working mothers.
- Promoting, protecting, and supporting breastfeeding within health services and communities, including through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
In 2004, the Health Assembly adopted the “WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health”. This strategy called upon governments, WHO, international partners, and civil society, to take action at the global, regional and local levels to promote healthy diets, exercise, and health.
The Health Assembly approved a series of recommendations in 2010 on marketing non-alcoholic beverages and foods to children. These recommendations help countries to design new policies or improve existing ones in order to minimize the negative impact of marketing foods and non-alcoholic drinks to children. The WHO also has regional tools (such as regional nutritional profile models) that can be used by countries to implement the marketing recommendations.
The 2012 Health Assembly adopted a “Comprehensive Execution Diet and Nutrition Plan on Maternal and Infant Child Nutrition” with six global nutrition targets. These include the reduction of stunting and wasting in children, breastfeeding improvement, and the reduction or low birth weight.
The Health Assembly established nine voluntary global targets in 2013 for NCD prevention and control. These include a halt in the rise of obesity and diabetes and a 30% reduction in salt intake by 2025. The “Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Disorders 2013-2020” provides guidelines and policy options for the Member States and WHO to reach the targets.
Many countries are now experiencing a rapid increase in obesity in infants and young children. In May 2014, WHO established the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The Commission made a series of recommendations in 2016 to tackle childhood obesity and adolescent weight problems in various settings around the globe.
The Second International Conference on Diet and Nutrition was held by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ICN2 adopted the Rome Declaration on Nutrition,, and the Framework for Action. This document recommends a range of policies and strategies to promote healthy, diverse, safe, and healthy diets for all ages. WHO assists countries in implementing the ICN2 commitments.
The 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13) was approved by the Health Assembly in May 2018. It will guide WHO’s work for 2019-2023 (19). Reduction of salt/sodium intake and elimination of industrially-produced trans-fats from the food supply are identified in GPW13 as part of WHO’s priority actions to achieve the aims of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.