A healthy diet is one that helps maintain or improve general health. It is important for lowering many chronic health risks, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertensionand cancer. A healthy diet involves consuming appropriate amounts of all essential nutrients and an adequate amount of water. Nutrients can be obtained from many different foods, so there are numerous diets that may be considered healthy. A healthy diet needs to have a balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, calories to support energy need and micro nutrients to meet the needs for human nutrition without inducing toxicity or excessive weight gain from consuming excessive amounts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) makes the following 5 recommendations with respect to both populations and individuals:
- Try to burn as much energy as you eat, and try to eat as much energy as you burn, as a healthy weight is a balance between those two.
- Increase consumption of plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts
- Limit intake of fat and oil, and avoid saturated fats, which are those that become solid at room temperature such as coconut oil and most animal fats including those found in red meat, dairy and eggs. Prefer unsaturated fats, which remain liquid at room temperature, and are predominant in most plant-based oils and foods. Eliminate trans fats.
- Limit the intake of granulated sugar — A 2003 report recommends less than 10% simple sugars
- Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized
Other recommendations include:
- Sufficient essential amino acids to provide cellular replenishment and transport proteins. All essential amino acids are present together only in animals. Many plants such as quinoa, soy, and hemp also provide almost all the essential acids but are always lacking in one or more essential amino acid. Those who omit meat products from their diets may still easily obtain all the essential amino acid in their diets by consuming adequate amounts of plant products and grain products, which combine to provide complete proteins to the diet. Fruits such as avocado and pumpkin seeds also have almost all of the essential amino acids.
- Essential micronutrients such as vitamins and certain minerals.
- Avoiding directly poisonous (e.g. heavy metals) and carcinogenic (e.g. benzene) substances;
- Avoiding foods contaminated by human pathogens (e.g. E. coli, tapeworm eggs).
Diet and reduced risk of chronic disease and cancer
A healthy diet is low in energy density and tends to reduce caloric intake, which may protect against weight gain and associated cancers and chronic diseases.
Migrant studies find that environmental factors including diet cause cancer and chronic disease. Human trials have reached inconsistent conclusions, and further research is being undertaken to clarify antioxidants role in prevention or treatment of cancer.
An unhealthy diet is a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases including: high blood pressure, diabetes, abnormal blood lipids,overweight/obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
The WHO estimates that 2,7 million deaths are attributable to a diet low in fruit and vegetable every year. Globally it is estimated to cause about 19% of gastrointestinal cancer, 31% of ischaemic heart disease, and 11% of strokes, thus making it one of the leadingpreventable causes of death worldwide.
A nutrition guide is a reference that provides nutrition advice for general health, typically by dividing foods into food groups and recommending servings of each group. Nutrition guides can be presented in written or visual form, and are commonly published by government agencies, health associations and university health departments.
First food pyramid
Amid high food prices in 1972, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare developed the idea of “basic foods” that were both cheap and nutritious, and “supplemental foods” that added nutrition missing from the basic foods. KF, aconsumer co-op that worked with the Board, sought to illustrate these food groups. KF developed a food pyramid because it could depict basic foods as its base, and introduced the guide to the public in 1974 in their magazine, Vi. At the base were bread, cereals, potatoes, milk, cheese and margarine; above it was a large section of supplemental vegetables and fruit; and at the top was an apex of supplemental meat, fish and eggs. The pyramid competed with the National Board’s “dietary circle,” which KF saw as problematic for resembling a cake divided into seven slices, and for not indicating how much of each food should be eaten. While the Board distanced itself from the pyramid, KF continued to promote it, and food pyramids were developed in other Scandinavian countries, plus West Germany, Japan and Sri Lanka. The United States later developed its first food pyramid in 1992.
Today, both the Swedish government and KF have moved to the Plate Model.