Health has come to the forefront in recent times. More so, after the Covid19. To be healthy, we need to eat healthy food. But what is healthy? can there be a generalized healthy food that anyone or everyone can eat?

I think this is an important question and we must delve into it.  

Any food item which contains vital nutrients and is grown without the use of pesticides comes under the scope of healthy foods.

The WHO says that - A healthy diet helps to protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

I understand, this is reason enough to explore this vast subject, which I intend to squeeze into an article of fewer than 1000 words.

Before the advent of processed foods, health was not a big issue. We were eating mostly fresh, and home-cooked food. But with changing lifestyles due to fast urbanization, financial growth, nuclear families, and both spouses working our dependence on processed food have increased. We are eating out often. Our fridge is always stocked with processed ready-to-eat food. We are looking for alternatives that save time as we are short of time. This resulted in saving time but losing health. Our priorities were not set right.

A balanced and healthy diet depends on the individual.s age, gender, and degree of physical activity. We must also take care of local produce and dietary customs. However, the basic principles of a healthy diet remain the same.

For an adult, a healthy diet includes mainly whole grains (unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, and brown rice), lentils and beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. An adult should consume at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day. The amount of free sugar should be within 50 gm or about 10 level teaspoons. This includes sugar in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and squashes. Free sugars consumption increases the risk of dental cavities. The foods and drinks high in free sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gainresulting to obesity. Evidences show that free sugars influence blood pressure and serum lipids. It also suggests that a reduction in free sugars intake reduces risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Sugars intake can be reduced by:

  • Limit the consumption of foods containing high amounts of sugars, such as sugary snacks, candies & sugar-sweetened beverages- carbonated or non‐carbonated soft drinks, fruit or vegetable juices and drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready‐to‐drink tea, ready‐to‐drink coffee and flavoured milk drinks).
  • Eat fresh fruit and raw vegetables as snacks instead of sugary snacks.
 The fat intake should be less than one-third of the energy intake. That means around 30 % of total calories intake should come from fats. Always remember unsaturated fats ( fish, avocado, nuts, and in sunflower, soybean, canola, and olive oils) are preferred over saturated fats (fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, etc). Trans fats of all kinds are found in baked and fried foods and pre-packed snacks, ready-to-eat frozen food, etc should be avoided.

Fat intake can be reduced by -

Reduce the saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy intake.

Reduce the trans-fats to less than 1% of total energy intake.

Replace saturated fats and trans-fats with unsaturated fats ,in particular with polyunsaturated fats.

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

Steaming or boiling instead of frying when cooking;

Use oils rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as soybean, canola (rapeseed), corn, safflower and sunflower oils.

Limit the consumption of baked and fried foods, and pre-packaged snacks and foods (e.g. doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits and wafers) that contain industrially-produced trans-fats.

Iodized salt equivalent to one teaspoon is recommended for an adult. Most of the salt is consumed from the processed foods i.e ready meals, processed meat, cheese salty snacks or bread etc.

Salt intake can be reduced by: Limiting the amount of salt and high-sodium condiments like soy sauce, fish sauce etc. Do not keep salt or high-sodium sauces on the table. Limit the consumption of salty snacks. choosing products with lower sodium content.

Potassium can mitigate the negative effects of elevated sodium consumption on blood pressure. Intake of potassium can be increased by consuming fresh fruit and vegetables.

If we think about the diet of infants and children, the first two years are very important for physical and cognitive development. Basic diet principles are the same for both adults and children. But the following should be taken care of -

Infants should be breastfed exclusively during the first 6 months.

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-rich foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.

How to promote healthy diets?

Diet is influenced by many social and economic factors that interact in a complex manner to shape individual and social dietary patterns. Factors like income, food prices, individual preferences, cultural traditions, geographical and environmental aspects like climate change affect the food habits of a society. Therefore, it requires the involvement of multiple sectors and stakehokders including government to promote a healthy food environment.This comprises of  food systems that promote a diversified, balanced and healthy diet .

But at individual levels, we can opt for fresh and local foods. Decrease the intake of processed foods and drinks. As we say, "vocal for local", this way we as consumers are contributing to our local economy and eating healthy too. eat more of fresh vegetables, fruits and dairy items instead of ready to eat, bakery or frozen products.

I think, it is not a difficult thing to do. If we care for our health more than our time, we should be switching over to healthy options easily.

Have a great health!

I am participating in BlogchatterA2Z.

Ref: WHO


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