A healthy diet is a balanced diet that provides important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep the body and mind strong and healthy. Eating healthy protects against malnutrition and minimizes risks of various diseases and health complications. However, increased production and consumption of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People nowadays consume more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, and do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Unhealthy eating patterns along with lack of physical activity health are the reasons for many serious diseases. Unhealthy lifestyles are a major global health risk and switching to a healthy diet is more important than ever.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), healthy dietary practices should start early in life, that is, with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development and may also provide longer term health benefits such as reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer later in life.
Eating the right amount of calories to balance the energy you consume with the energy you use is the key to healthy and balanced diet. A balanced diet means eating foods from the five major groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy. A healthy diet also includes a wider range of options that includes legumes, seeds and nuts, fish and even plant oils. It is recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules) and women have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).
Here are the general guidelines for healthy eating:
- The most important rule of healthy eating is not skipping any meal, especially breakfast. Skipping breakfast lowers your metabolic rate.
- Eat more raw foods such as salads, fruits and vegetable juices. This will also make meal preparation more easy and simple.
- Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark green, red, and orange vegetables (3 or more servings a day).
- Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Reduce or eliminate refined or processed carbohydrates; instead, eat whole grains, high-fiber breads and cereals.
- Try to use variety of foods in the menu because no single food has all the nutrients.
- Avoid eating an unhealthy snack when hungry by keeping healthy snacks handy.
- Consume low-fat milk and low-fat dairy products.
- If you eat meat, avoid red meat and consume white meat.
- Reduce intake of saturated fats and trans-fats as much as possible.
- Use vegetable oils such as olive or canola oil instead of solid fats.
- Reduce daily intake of salt or sodium to less than 1,500 mg. per day if you are older than 50, or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
- Restrict or eliminate sodas and other sugar-added drinks that are high in calories and contain few or no nutrients.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar from your diet.
- Carry a homemade lunch to work and limit the consumption of junk foods.
- Read and understand the nutrition facts on food labels.
- Stop eating when you feel full.
A balanced diet is one that provides around 60-70% of total calories from carbohydrates, 10-12% from proteins and 20-25% of total calories from fat. Medical News Today notes, “Dietary guidelines change over time, as scientists discover new information about nutrition. Current recommendations suggest that a person’s plate should contain primarily vegetables and fruits, some lean protein, some dairy, and soluble fiber.”