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Healthy diet

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Important information

  • A balanced diet can help prevent malnutrition in all forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
  • A poor diet and a lack of physical exercise are the leading dangers to health.
  • Healthy eating habits start from the beginning of life. Breastfeeding encourages healthy growth and boosts cognitive development. It can also offer long-term health benefits like the reduction of the chance of becoming obese or overweight, as well as the result of NCDs later in the course.
  • Consumption of energy (calories) must be balanced with the energy expenditure. To prevent unhealthy weight gain, the amount of fat consumed should not be more than 30% of the total energy consumption (1 2 3). Intake of saturated fats should be less than 10% of total energy intake, and intake of trans-fats less than 1% of total energy intake, with a shift in fat consumption away from saturated fats and trans-fats to unsaturated fats (3), and towards the goal of eliminating industrially-produced trans-fats (4, 5, 6).
  • Limiting the intake of sugars that are free in the range of less than 10% of the total energy consumption (2 7, 2) is a part of a healthy eating plan. Further reductions to lower than 5 percent of your total energy intake are recommended for other health advantages (7).
  • Limiting your intake of salt to a minimum of 5 grams daily (equivalent to a sodium intake of less than 2 grams per day) aids in preventing hypertension. It decreases the chance of developing stroke and heart disease in the population of adults (8).
  • WHO States members have negotiated to reduce the consumption of salt to 30 percent in 2025. They have also agreed to stop the increase in obesity and diabetes among teens and adults and also in children overweight until 2025 (9 10).

Consuming a balanced diet throughout life helps stop malnutrition in all of its forms and a variety of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and related conditions. However, the increased production of processed food and rapid urbanization, as well as the changes in lifestyles, have caused an alteration in our eating habits. We are now eating more energy-rich foods and fats, as well as salt and sodium, and a lot of people aren’t eating enough fruit, vegetables, and other sources of fiber sources like whole grains.

The specifics of a diverse, balanced healthy diet can differ according to individual traits (e.g., gender, age, and intensity of physical exercise) and the context of culture as well as local foods and the dietary habits of each individual. However, the fundamental guidelines for an appropriate diet are the same.

For adults

A healthy diet should include the following elements:

  • Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g., beans and lentils) as well as whole grain (e.g., millet, maize, and millet that are not processed) grains, oats, wheat, or brown rice).
  • At least 400 grams (i.e., five portions) of vegetables and fruits daily (2), exempting sweet potatoes, cassava, potatoes, and other starchy root vegetables.
  • A mere tenth of 10% of the total energy intake is derived from free sugars (2 7, seven), which is equivalent to about 50 grams (or around 12 teaspoons of level) for a person with a healthy weight and consuming approximately 2000 calories a day but should not be more than 5% the total energy intake to gain other health-related benefits (7). Free sugars refer to all sugars that are added to food as well as drinks either by maker or cook and also honey naturally-derived sugars syrups as well as fruit juices and concentrates of juices.
  • A little less than 30 percent of the total energy intake comes from fats (1 2 3). Unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado, and nuts, and 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 consumption of saturated fats should be decreased by less than 10% of the total energy intake and transfats to less than 1%.fats to less than 1 percent of the total energy consumption (5). In particular, industrially produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided (4, 6).
  • Less than 5 grams of salt (equivalent to 1 teaspoon) every day (8). Salt must be Iodized.

For infants and toddlers

In the initial two days of the child’s existence, good nutrition promotes healthy growth and enhances cognitive development. Also, it reduces the likelihood of becoming obese or overweight or developing NCDs later on in life.

The advice on healthy eating for children and infants is the same as the advice for adults. However, the following factors are crucial:

  • Infants should exclusively be breastfed in the first six months of their life.
  • Babies should be fed continuously until the age of 2 and beyond.
  • At six months, the breast milk must be supplemented with a range of healthy, safe, and nutritious food items. Sugar and salt shouldn’t be added to food items that complement it.

Practical tips for maintaining an appropriate diet

Fruits and vegetables

At least 400 grams or five portions of fruits and vegetables each day lowers the risk of developing NCDs (2) and aids in ensuring an adequate daily intake of fiber from food.

Intake of vegetables and fruits can be increased through:

  • always including vegetables in meals;
  • eating fresh fruits and raw vegetables for snacks;
  • eating fresh fruits and other veggies that are available and
  • eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.


Reducing the total fat consumption to less than 30% of the total energy consumption helps reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain in people of all ages (1 2 3). Additionally, the chance of developing NCDs can be reduced through:

  • Reduce saturated fats by less than 10% of the total energy intake
  • Reduce the amount of the amount of trans-fats by less than 1 percent of energy intake.
  • Substituting saturated fats as well as trans-replacing trans fats with unsaturated fats (2 3, 3,) – in particular, by using polyunsaturated fats.

Fat intake, especially saturated fat and industrially-produced trans-fat intake, can be reduced by:

  • Steaming or boiling in place of frying during cooking;
  • substituting butter, lard, and Ghee with oils that are rich in polyunsaturated fats like canola, soybean (rapeseed) as well as corn, sunflower, and safflower oils;
  • eating dairy products with reduced fat and lean meats, as well as taking visible fat off of the heart and
  • restricting consumption of fried and baked foods, prepared snacks, and meals (e.g., doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits, and wafers) that contain industrially produced trans-fats.

Salt, potassium, and sodium

A majority of people consume excessive sodium via salt (corresponding to approximately 9-12 grams of salt a day) and don’t get adequate potassium (less than 3.5 grams). A high intake of sodium and a low potassium intake can cause elevated blood pressure, which raises the chance of developing heart attack and heart disease (8 11, 11.).

Limiting your salt intake to the minimum recommended amount of less than 5 g a day could save 1.7 million deaths per calendar year (12).

Many people are unaware of how much salt they ingest. There are many nations where the majority of salt comes from processed food items (e.g., ready-to-eat meals, processed meats like salami, bacon and ham cheese, and salted snacks) or comes from food items consumed often in large quantities (e.g., bread). Salt can also be added to meals in cooking (e.g., Bouillon, stock cubes, soy sauce, and fish sauce) or at the time at which food is consumed (e.g., Table salt).

The amount of salt consumed can be decreased through:

  • Limiting the amount of salt and high-sodium foods (e.g., soy sauce, fish sauce, and Bouillon) while cooking and preparing food items;
  • There are no sauces or salty condiments at the table;
  • Limiting the consumption of salty snacks and
  • choosing products that have less sodium content.

Certain food producers are changing recipes to lower the amount of sodium in their products. Consumers should be advised to look at the labels on nutrition labels to find out how much sodium is present in the product prior to purchasing it or eating it.

Potassium helps to counteract the negative effects of high sodium intake on blood pressure. Potassium intake can be increased through consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.


For children and adults in both adults and children, the intake of free sugars should be lowered in order not to exceed 10% of the total energy consumption (2 7, 7.). The reduction to below 5% of the total energy consumption would bring further health advantages (7).

Consuming free sugars can increase the chance of developing dental caries (tooth decay). Foods and beverages that are high in free sugars can also cause overweight, which could lead to weight gain and overweight. Recent evidence suggests that free sugars can affect serum lipids and blood pressure and suggest that a decrease in the intake of free sugars reduces risk factors for cardiovascular disease (13).

The consumption of sugars can be reduced through:

  • Restricting the consumption of food and beverages that contain high levels of sugar. This includes sweets, sugary snacks, and drinks sweetened with sugar (i.e., any beverage that contains sugars that are not free – for example, carbonated or non-carbonated soft drinks, juices from vegetables or fruits and beverages, powder and liquid concentrates and flavored drinks, energy, and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea or coffee, ready-to-drink coffee drinks, and milk drinks that are flavored) as well as
  • eating fresh fruits and raw vegetables for snacks instead of sweet snacks.

How do you promote healthy diets?

Diet changes in time and is affected by a variety of economic and social variables that interact in a multifaceted manner to determine our eating habits. This includes income, prices for food (which can affect the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of nutritious food), personal preferences and beliefs, cultural and religious traditions, and geographic and environmental factors (including climate changes). Thus, creating the healthiest food system which includes food systems that encourage healthy, well-balanced, and healthy diets – calls for the involvement of multiple stakeholders and sectors, including the government and both private and public sectors.

The role of the government is crucial in establishing a healthy food environment that encourages people to adhere to and maintain healthy lifestyles. The most effective actions taken by policymakers to ensure a healthy eating environment can be described as follows:

  • Incorporating coherence into national policies and investment plans – which include trade policies, food, and agricultural to encourage healthy eating habits and protect the health of the population through:
    • Increased incentives for retailers and producers to cultivate, use, and sell fresh fruits and other vegetables;
    • less incentive in the sector of agriculture to maintain or increase the production of processed foods that contain high levels of saturated fats, trans-fats free sugars, and salt and sodium;
    • 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 guidelines on the advertising of alcohol-free and non-alcoholic drinks as well as food to children
    • setting standards to promote healthy eating habits by ensuring that nutritious nutritious, inexpensive, safe foods in schools, pre-schools, and other public institutions as well as at work;
    • investigating voluntary and regulatory instruments (e.g., nutritional labeling and marketing policies) as well as economic incentives or incentives (e.g., the tax system and subventions) to encourage healthy eating habits and
    • Encouraging transnational, national, and local food service and catering companies to improve the nutritional value of their food – assuring accessibility and affordability of nutritious choices. Also, they should evaluate the sizes of portions and prices.
  • Promoting demand from consumers for healthier meals and foods by:
    • Promoting awareness among consumers of the importance of a healthy diet
    • creating school policies and programs that help children adhere to an appropriate diet;
    • Instructing children, adolescents, and adults on the importance of nutrition and healthy eating practices;
    • teaching cooking skills, which includes teaching children to cook;
    • Providing information at the point of sale, for example, by ensuring nutrition labels give accurate, standardized, and understandable information on the nutritional content of food items (in conformity with the Codex Alimentarius Commission guidelines) along with the addition of front-of-pack labeling to make it easier for consumers to understand; and
    • Offering nutritional counseling and diet in health facilities that provide primary care.
  • Promoting safe eating habits through:
    • Implementing the Code International of Marketing for Breast-milk substitutes and the subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions;
    • Implementing policies and practices to ensure the protection of mothers who work and
    • Encouraging, protecting, and supporting breastfeeding within health facilities and in the local community, for example, via the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.

WHO is the response

“The “WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” (14) was approved at the end of 2004 by the Health Assembly. The strategy urged government officials, WHO, as well as international partner private sector, as well as the civil and political sphere, to act at the global, regional, and local levels to promote healthy diets and exercise.

In 2010, The Health Assembly endorsed a set of recommendations for the marketing of beverages and food items to kids (15). These guidelines guide nations in establishing new policies and strengthening existing ones to lessen the negative impact on children from the promotion of food and non-alcoholic drinks to children. WHO has also developed regional-specific instruments (such as regional nutrition profile models), which countries can use to implement the marketing guidelines.

In 2012 in 2012, the Health Assembly adopted a “Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition” as well as six global nutrition goals to be accomplished by 2025, which include the reduction in wasting, stunting and excess weight in children, improvement in breastfeeding, and the elimination of anemia and low birth weight (9).

In 2013 2013, the Health Assembly agreed to nine globally voluntary targets for the prevention and management of NCDs. These goals include a halt to the increase in obesity and diabetes, as well as an overall reduction of 30% in salt consumption in 2025. “The “Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020” (10)provides guidance and policy alternatives to Member States, WHO and other United Nations agencies to achieve the goals.

Many countries are experiencing an alarming increase in obesity, both among children and infants. In May 2014, WHO established the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. In 2016, the Commission released a set of guidelines to tackle childhood and adolescent obesity within diverse settings around the globe (16).

The month of November was the time that WHO coordinated, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). ICN2 also adopted ICN2’s Rome Declaration on Nutrition (17) and the Framework for Action (18), which suggests a number of strategies and policy options to encourage a variety of nutritious and safe diets for all ages. WHO aids nations to fulfill the commitments made by ICN2.

In May 2018, The Health Assembly approved the 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13) that will guide the activities of WHO for the period 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. To support Member States in taking necessary steps to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fats, WHO has developed a roadmap for countries (the REPLACE action package) to help accelerate efforts (6).

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