A healthy diet can be described as a diet that helps to maintain or improve overall health. A healthy diet gives the body the necessary nutrition that is, macronutrients, micronutrients, fluids, and sufficient calories. For healthy individuals, a healthy diet comprises majorly of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and also includes little or no processed food and sweetened beverages. The increase in the production of processed foods combined with rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have resulted in a change in dietary patterns. The World Health Organization reports that the outcome of this shift is that individuals today are consuming more foods high in fats, salt/sodium, energy, and free sugars. Many people are not eating enough vegetables, fruits, and other dietary fiber like whole grains.
Eating a healthy diet is not about having strict limitations, staying unreasonably thin, or denying oneself the foods you love. Instead, it is about feeling great, having more energy, improving one’s health, and boosting your mood.
Key Facts about Healthy Diet:
- A healthy diet aids in protecting against all forms of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
- An unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are major global risks to health.
- The intake of energy (calories) should be balanced with the expenditure of energy.
- Healthy dietary practices begin early in life. Breastfeeding nurtures healthy growth and enhances cognitive development.
- A healthy diet also involves limiting the free sugars intake to below 10% of the total energy intake.
The requirements for a healthy diet can be fulfilled from plant-based and animal-based foods even though a non-animal source of vitamin B12 is required for the individuals who follow a vegan diet.
Fundamentals of a Healthy Diet:
Apart from breast milk as a food for babies, there is no single food that contains all the vital nutrients needed by the body to stay healthy and work properly. For this reason, healthy diets should contain a variety of different foods that give a person the nutrients needed to maintain their health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients comprise carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and fat.
- Protein– gives a person the energy to get up and go, and keep going while also supporting mood and cognitive function. High-quality proteins particularly a variety of plant-based sources of proteins are recommended. Too many proteins are harmful to people with kidney disease.
- Carbohydrates– These are the main sources of energy for the body. It is recommended that a majority of carbohydrates consumed should come from complex, unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains, and fruit) instead of sugars and refined carbs.
- Fiber– foods high in dietary fiber include grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans. They help a person stay regular and lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
- Fat– bad fats can wreck the diet and increase the risk of certain diseases while good fats protect the brain and heart. Healthy fats like omega-3s are essential for a person’s physical and emotional health.
- Calcium– lack of adequate calcium in the diet leads to osteoporosis and also contributes to depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. A healthy diet should incorporate calcium-rich foods. Consider low-fat and fat-free yoghurts without added sugars.
Recommendations for a Healthy Diet:
The precise make-up of a diversified, balanced, and healthy diet will vary depending on individual characteristics (such as gender, age, degree of physical activity, and lifestyle), cultural context, dietary customs, and locally available foods. Nonetheless, the basic principles of what makes up a healthy diet are constant.
The World Health Organization has recommended the following to constitute a healthy diet for different age groups:
- At least 400g of fruit and vegetables daily, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other starchy roots.
- Vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
- Less than 5g of salt daily. The salt should be iodized.
- Not more than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars. This is equivalent to 50g (or about 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming about 2000 calories per day. Free sugars are all sugars added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, and the sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.
- Not more than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Unsaturated fats (from fish, avocado, and nuts, and in sunflower, soybean, canola, and olive oils) should be preferred to saturated fats, trans-fats of all kinds, including both industrially-produced trans-fats, and ruminant trans-fats. The intake of saturated fats should be less than 10% of total energy intake. Industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided
Infants and Young Children
The healthy diet requirement for infants and children is the same as that for adults, and includes the following elements:
- Breastfeed infants exclusively for the first six months of life.
- Breastfeed the infants continuously until 2 years of age and beyond.
- From 6 months of age, complement breast milk with various sufficient, secure, and nutrient-dense foods. Do not add salt and sugars to the complementary foods.