What is the importance of a well-balanced and healthy diet?

well-balanced and healthy diet
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1. Have a balanced and healthy diet

The body demands food to function well, for this it is advisable to vary the food in reasonable quantities (consume fruits, vegetables, sugars, fats, legumes, dairy products, meat, eggs, fish, etc.) Water is also very important for the good functioning of the body. Other drinks, such as coffee, tea, fruit juices, might be drunk in moderation. Besides, some foods are known to be good for intelligence, memory, and concentration (fish, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, in addition to some food supplement; such as wheat, oat, rye, sesame, etc.) However, it is better to avoid the excessive consumption of saturated fats ( charcuterie, whole dairy, cheese, butter), and red meat.

2. Key facts of a healthy diet

  • A healthy diet help to maintain or improve one’s overall health
  • A good and healthy diet provides the body with the essential nutrients: fluids, essential amino acids of proteins, acids, vitamins, minerals, and enough calories. A healthy diet may be satisfied by a variety of vegetal or animal food. It provides the necessary energy without exposure to the toxicity or excessive weight gain caused by over-consumption. A healthy diet (in addition to physical activity) is also essential to reduce health risks, such as obesity, heart diseases, diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, and cancer.
  • Healthy food helps to protect against all forms of malnutrition, also against non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • A poor diet and a lack of physical exercise are the main world health risks.
  • Healthy food habits start from an early age: breastfeeding promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive progress. It might also have some long-term benefits, for example, a reduction of overweight risk, obesity, or non-communicable diseases of a lifetime.
  • Energy speaking, the intake (in calories) must be adapted to the expenditure. To avoid all excessive weight gain, the fats mustn’t exceed 30% of the total energy intake.
  • Saturated fats’ consumption must be less than 10% of the total energy intake, against 1% for the trans fatty acids. It is appropriate to evolve fats’ consumption to favor unsaturated fats at the expense of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, as well as to eliminate the industrial trans fatty acids.
  • Limiting the free sugar intake less than 10% of total energy intakes is part of a healthy diet. We suggest to go further and go below 5% of total energy intakes, to augment the health benefits.
  • Maintaining the salt consumption less than 5 g per day (which corresponds to a sodium intake less than 2 g a day) helps to avoid the high blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart diseases and stroke in the adult population.
  • The members of the World Health Organization WHO, are convinced to reduce 30% of salt consumption of the world population and to put an end to the rise of diabetes and obesity in adults and adolescents, as well as the overweight in children by 2025.

3. For adults

 A healthy diet consisting of the following:

  • fruits, vegetables, legumes ( such as lentils and peas) dried fruits and whole grains ( such as unprocessed corn, millet, oats, wheat brown rice).
  • At least 400 g (or 5 portions) of fruits and vegetables a day; potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and the other starchy roots are not among fruits and vegetables.
  • Less than 10% of the total energy intake from free sugars, an equivalent of 50 g (about 12 level teaspoons) for a person’s normal weight consuming about 2000 calories per day; ideally, to further preserve the health, this part should be less than 5% of total energy intakes. Free sugars are added to food or drinks by the manufacturer, the cook, or the consumer; however, we find them naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juices, or fruit juices concentrate.
  • Less than 30% of total energy intake originating from fats. It is appropriate to prefer the unsaturated fats (that we find in fish, avocado, nuts, as well as in sunflower, soybean, rapeseed, and olive oils) rather than saturated fats ( that we find in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, clarified butter, and lard) and rather than trans fatty acids of all kinds. It does also exist industrial trans fatty acids ( that we find in baked and fried foods, as well as in snacks and pre-packed foods, such as frozen pizza, pies, cookies, biscuits, waffles or cooking oils and spreads), as well as the trans fatty acids issued from ruminants ( that we find in meat, dairy products derived from ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, goats, and camels). We propose to reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total energy intake and that of trans fatty acids to less than 1%. The industrial trans fatty acids, in particular, cannot take part in a healthy diet and should be excluded.
  • Less than 5 g of salt (about a teaspoon) per day, favoring the iodized salt

4. For infants and young children

Throughout the first two years of a child’s life, optimal nutrition promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development. It also reduces the risk of overweight, obesity, or NCDs later in life.

The tips for a healthy diet in infants and children are the same as for adults, in addition to the following important elements:

  • Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life.
  • It is appropriate to continue breastfeeding until the age of two years and beyond.
  • Starting from the age of six months, breast milk should be supplemented with varied, suitable, safe, and nutrient foods, without adding salt and sugar to complementary foods.

5. Practical tips for healthy eating

5.1 Fruits and vegetables

Eating at least 400 g or 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases. It helps to ensure an adequate daily intake of dietary fiber.

Here are some ways to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables:

  • eat vegetables at all meals
  • eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables as a snack
  • diversify the fruits and vegetables consumed
  • eat seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables.

5.2 Fats

Reducing the total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake allows adults to avoid gaining too much weight.

Besides, the risk of developing non-communicable diseases decreases by adopting the following habits:

  • reduction of saturated fat to less than 10% of total energy intake;
  • reduction of saturated fatty acids to less than 1% of total energy intake; and
  • replacement of saturated fats and trans fatty acids by unsaturated fats, in particular by polyunsaturated fats.

It is possible to reduce the intake of fats, in particular, industrial trans fatty acids, by doing the following:

  • steam or boil rather than frying food;
  • replace butter, lard and clarified butter with oils rich in polyunsaturated fats such as soybean, rapeseed, corn, safflower or sunflower oil;
  • eat low-fat dairy products and lean meat, or remove visible fat from meat; and
  • limit the consumption of baked and fried foods, as well as snacks and prepackaged foods (e.g., donuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits, and waffles) that contain industrial trans fatty acids.

5.3 Salt, sodium, and potassium

Most people have excessive sodium intake due to salt consumption (an average of 9 g to 12 g of salt per day) and insufficient potassium intake (less than 3.5 g). This contributes to high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Each year, 1.7 million deaths could be prevented by reducing salt consumption to reach the recommended level of less than 5 g per day.

Usually, people are unaware of the amount of salt they are consuming. In many countries, most of the salt comes from processed foods (such as prepared meals, processed meats like bacon, ham or sausage, cheeses, and snacks) or foods that are consumed frequently in large quantities (for example, bread). Salt is also added during cooking (for example, in the form of soup or cube-soup, soy sauce, and fish sauce) or at the table (table salt).

It is possible to limit salt consumption by adopting the following:

  • limit the amount of salt and condiments with a high sodium content (for example soy sauce, fish sauce, and soup) added during cooking and food preparation;
  • do not put salt or high sodium sauces on the table;
  • limit the consumption of salty snacks; and
  • choose products with low salt content.

Some manufacturers reformulate recipes in order to reduce the content of salt in their products, and it is useful to check the labels to verify the sodium content of a product before buying and consuming it.

We can increase the potassium intake, that can mitigate the negative effects of high salt consumption on blood pressure, by eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

5.4 Sugar

In adults, as in children, the consumption of free sugars should not exceed 10% of the total energy intake. Going below 5% of total energy intake would increase health benefits.

The consumption of free sugars increases the risk of dental caries. The excess calories consumed in foods and drinks rich in free sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which can lead to overweight or obesity. The latest evidence also shows that free sugars have an effect on blood pressure and serum lipids and suggesting that a reduction in the consumption of free sugars reduces the risk factors for cardiovascular.

Possibility to limit sugar consumption by adopting the following:

  • Limiting the consumption of foods and drinks high in sugars content, such as sweetened snacks, candies and sweetened drinks (i.e., all types of drinks containing free sugars, such as sodas, non-gaseous drinks, fruit or vegetable juices, liquid or powdered concentrates, flavored waters, energy, and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee,
  • Snack fresh fruit and raw vegetables rather than sweet snacks.

6. A healthy diet contains

6.1 Lots of vegetables and fruits

  • It is one of the most important food habits. Vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber) and help you to maintain a healthy weight by filling yourself longer.
  • Vegetables and fruits should constitute half of all your meals and snacks.

6.2 Whole grains

  • Whole-grain foods include particularly bread and crackers, brown and wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and hulled barley. These foods are prepared with whole grains. They contain fiber, protein, and B-complex vitamins to help you stay healthy and full for longer.
  • Choose whole-grain options instead of processed or refined grains like pasta and white bread.
  • Fill a quarter of your plate with whole-grain foods.

6.3 Protein foods

  • It concerns fish, seafood, eggs, poultry, lean red meats, such as game, milk, low-fat yogurt, and kefir, as well as low-sodium and fat cheese.
  • Proteins contribute to the formation and the health of bones, muscles, and skin.
  • Eat protein foods every day.
  • Consider eating at least two fish meals a week, cook dishes of plant-based foods.
  • Dairy products are a good source of protein. Choose options with less fat and not flavored.
  • Protein foods should constitute a quarter of your plate.

6.4 Little or no highly processed, or ultra-processed foods

  • Foods that have undergone significant processing, also called ultra-processed foods, are foods that have been changed from their original food state and to which many ingredients have been added. During the processing, important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fibers, are often removed while salt and sugar are added. For example, processed foods, including fast food products, hot dogs, potato chips, dry cookies, frozen pizzas, charcuterie, white rice, and white bread.
  • Some foods that have undergone slight processing have good nutritional quality.

It is about modified foods in some way but which contain few industrial additives. Minimally processed foods retain most of their essential nutrients. These foods mainly are; packaged salads, frozen vegetables and fruits, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, whole-grain rice, oil, and dry spices. We do not refer to foods with minimal processing when we advise you not to consume processed foods.

  • A study funded by Heart + Stroke found that nearly half of the country’s population daily calorie intake comes from ultra-processed foods.

 7. Lots of water

  • Water promotes health and keeps you hydrated without caloric intake.
  • Sugary drinks, including energy drinks, fruit juices, 100% pure juices, non-gaseous drinks, and flavored coffees, contain a large amount of sugar and have little nutritional value. It is easy to drink empty calories without thinking about it, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Avoid consuming fruit juices, even if it is 100% juice. Although these have certain nutritional benefits from fruits (vitamins and minerals), they contain more sugar and less fiber than these. Everyone should eat fruit rather than drink the juice.
  • When fresh drinking water is not available, stay hydrated with coffee, tea, low-fat unsweetened milk, or boil water.

8. Top 5 Expert Advice

  1. Prepare most of your meals at home using whole or minimally processed foods. Choose a variety of proteins to brighten up your meals. Choose funny names for each day that will help you to plan.
  2. Plan your meals every week – this is very important for quick and easy meal preparation.
  3. Choose recipes that contain lots of vegetables and fruits. You must fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit at each meal. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables every day, including orange and dark green vegetables. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without sugar are a perfect substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  4. Avoid sugary drinks and drink water instead. Low-fat, sugar-free milk is also a good way to stay hydrated. Keep a reusable water bottle in your bag or in your car so you can fill it wherever you go.
  5. Eat smaller meals often. Eat at least three meals a day with snacks between meals. When you wait too long to eat, you are more likely to make low-nutritional choices. Keep easy-to-eat snacks in your purse or purse for emergencies.

Originally published on Live Positively.