A nutritious diet is important for preventing malnutrition in all of its manifestations, as well as a variety of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and disorders. However, dietary trends have shifted as a result of increased manufacturing of processed foods, rapid urbanization, and changing lifestyles. Individuals are eating more foods that are heavy in energy, fats, free sugars, and salt/sodium, and many people aren’t eating enough fruit, vegetables, and other dietary fiber like whole grains.
Individual factors (e.g., age, gender, lifestyle, and level of physical activity), cultural background, and regionally accessible foods all influence the composition of a diversified, balanced, and nutritious diet.
A healthy diet includes the following:Fruit, vegetables, legumes (such as lentils and beans), nuts, and whole grains are all good sources of fiber (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice).
A minimum of 400 g (five pieces) of fruits and vegetables per day, omitting potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other starchy rootsLess than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars comparable to 50 g (or about 12 level teaspoons) for a healthy body weight consuming roughly 2000 calories per day, but ideally less than 5% of total energy intake for additional health benefits.
All sweeteners added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook, or customer, as well as sugars naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates are considered free sugars.Fats account for less than 30% of overall calorie intake. 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 kinds (found in baked and fried foods, as well as pre-packaged snacks and foods like frozen pizza, pies, cookies, and bikini bottoms) (found in meat and dairy foods from ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, goats and camels).
It is suggested that the intake of saturated fats be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake and trans-fats to less than 1% of total energy intake (5). In particular, industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided.
In the first 2 years of a child’s life, optimal nutrition fosters healthy growth and improves cognitive development. It also reduces the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing NCDs later in life.Advice on a healthy diet for infants and children is similar to that for adults, but the following elements are also important:
- Infants should be breastfed exclusively during the first 6 months of life.
- Infants should be breastfed continuously until 2 years of age and beyond.
- From 6 months of age, breast milk should be complemented with a variety of adequate, safe and nutrient-dense foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.