Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released tips for a healthy diet in the New Year.
Free sugars are all sugars added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions. However, increased production of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, and many people do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fibre such as whole grains.
A healthy diet for adults includes the following:
- Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice).
- At least 400 g (i.e. five portions) of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars, which is equivalent to 50 g (or about 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming about 2000 calories per day, but ideally is less than 5% of total energy intake for additional health benefits.
- Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado and nuts, and in 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 suggested that the intake of saturated fats be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake and trans-fats to less than 1% of total energy intake. In particular, industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided.
- Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to about one teaspoon) per day. Salt should be iodized.
Too much salt can raise blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Most people around the world eat too much salt: on average, we consume double the WHO recommended limit of 5 grams (equivalent to a teaspoon) a day.
Too much sugar is not only bad for our teeth, but increases the risk of unhealthy weight gain and obesity, which can lead to serious, chronic health problems.
Top 5 Tips for a healthy diet this New Year:
- Eat a variety of foods: In your daily diet, aim to eat a mix of staple foods such as wheat, maize, rice and potatoes with legumes like lentils and beans, plenty of fresh fruit and veg, and foods from animal sources (e.g. meat, fish, eggs and milk).
Choose wholegrain foods like unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice when you can; they are rich in valuable fibre and can help you feel full for longer.
Choose lean meats where possible or trim it of visible fat.
Try steaming or boiling instead of frying foods when cooking.
For snacks, choose raw vegetables, unsalted nuts and fresh fruit, rather than foods that are high in sugars, fats or salt.
- Cut back on salt (reduce salt consumption):
Some tips to reduce your salt intake:
- When cooking and preparing foods, use salt sparingly and reduce use of salty sauces and condiments (like soy sauce, stock or fish sauce).
- Avoid snacks that are high in salt, and try and choose fresh healthy snacks over processed foods.
- When using canned or dried vegetables, nuts and fruit, choose varieties without added salt and sugars.
- Remove salt and salty condiments from the table and try and avoid adding them out of habit; our taste buds can quickly adjust and once they do, you are likely to enjoy food with less salt, but more flavor!
- Check the labels on food and go for products with lower sodium content.
- Reduce use of certain fats and oils
Industrially-produced trans fats are the most hazardous for health. A diet high in this kind of fat has been found to raise risk of heart disease by nearly 30%.
Some tips to reduce fat consumption:
- Replace butter, lard and ghee with healthier oils such as soybean, canola (rapeseed), corn, safflower and sunflower.
- Choose white meat like poultry and fish which are generally lower in fats than red meat, and limit the consumption of processed meats.
- Check labels and always avoid all processed, fast and fried foods that contain industrially-produced trans fat. It is often found in margarine and ghee, as well as pre-packaged snacks, fast, baked and fried foods.
- Limit sugar intake
Some tips to reduce sugar intake:
- Limit intake of sweets and sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and juice drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee and flavoured milk drinks.
- Choose healthy fresh snacks rather than processed foods.
- Avoid giving sugary foods to children. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods give to children under 2 years of age, and should be limited beyond that age.
- Avoid hazardous and harmful alcohol use
Alcohol is not a part of a healthy diet, but in many cultures New Year’s celebrations are associated with heavy alcohol consumption.
Overall, drinking too much, or too often, increases your immediate risk of injury, as well as causing longer-term effects like liver damage, cancer, heart disease and mental illness.
WHO advises that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption; and for many people even low levels of alcohol use can still be associated with significant health risks .
You should not drink alcohol at all if:
- you are pregnant or breastfeeding;
- you are driving,
- you are operating machinery or undertaking other activities that involve related risks;
- you have health problems which may be made worse by alcohol;
- you are taking medicines which directly interact with alcohol; or
- you have difficulties with controlling your drinking.
Link to WHO’s ‘5 tips for a healthy diet this New Year’:
Link to WHO factsheet on Healthy Diet:
Link to WHO video on Trans fat: