Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. It protects you against many chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
NCDs are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression. The four main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
Serving Size vs. Portion Size
Many people don’t know what a healthy portion is. Portion size is the amount of food or drinks you actually consume in one sitting. A serving size is a measured amount of food — 1 cup, 1 slice, 1 bag, etc. — intended to be eaten at one time.
Restaurants offer extras like bread, chips and other appetizers that add extra calories, sodium, and fat but lack any nutritional benefit. Some meals have portions that are enough for two or more people.
Many convenience foods and drinks are priced lower but packaged in larger sizes to sell more. To control the portion size offer the proper “serving” to each member of the family, then put the extra food away. Save leftovers for another meal.
When dining out, skip the appetizers and split a large salad or main dish with a friend. When ordering takeout at home, eat one slice of pizza instead of two, and order a small instead of a medium to split among the family so the pieces are smaller.
Don’t eat while watching TV or a movie or when you’re on the computer. Measure out snacks into appropriate portion sizes Using a food diary can help you pay closer attention to what you’re eating, how much and how often. Tracking your calories helps you monitor your weight.
Eat more Vegetables and Fruits
A recently published WHO/FAO report recommends a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers) for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, as well as for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies.
Approximately 1.7 million (2.8%) of deaths worldwide are attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption.
Insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14% of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11% of ischaemic heart disease deaths and about 9% of stroke deaths globally.
Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol are risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke, and the potassium provided by fruits and vegetables has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure.
Dietary fiber may also help to lower blood pressure, and together with phytochemicals such as plant sterols, flavonoids, and other antioxidants may be important in modulating cholesterol and other biological processes that could reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Dietary fiber may also help to regulate insulin, which may impact the risk of type 2 diabetes, and together with the high water content of fruits or vegetables, may help to reduce the risk of overweight and obesity by promoting satiety and reducing hunger, thus limiting overall energy intake.
Dietary folate is a determinant of homocysteine levels in the blood and homocysteine has been linked to coronary heart disease.
Antioxidants may also play a role in reducing the risk of cancer by preventing oxidative damage to cells of the body.
Select Whole Grains
People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy eating style have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Grains are divided into two subgroups, whole grains, and refined grains.
Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel — the bran, germ, and endosperm. They deliver a variety of important nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and other healthy plant compounds. As part of a heart-healthy diet, whole grains may help lower your risk of stroke.
Eating whole grains regularly could help lower inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases.
Due to their fiber content, whole grains help support healthy digestion by giving bulk to stools and feeding your beneficial gut bacteria.
Fiber and magnesium are two nutrients in whole grains that help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Eating whole grains may lower your risk of obesity and heart disease, especially when they replace refined grains.
Limit Unhealthy Fats
There are numerous types of fat. Your body makes its own fat from taking in excess calories.
Some types of dietary fat play a role in cardiovascular disease. If you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight. Excess weight is linked to poor health.
Saturated fat comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fats may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation.
These partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Most fats that have a high percentage of saturated fat or that contain trans fat are solid at room temperature. Because of this, they’re typically referred to as solid fats.
The potentially helpful types of dietary fat are primarily unsaturated fats. Eating foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids instead of saturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Foods made up mostly of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperatures, such as canola oil, olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health. Omega-3, found in some types of fatty fish, appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease.
Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring.
Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed (ground), oils (flaxseed, soybean) and nuts.
Choose Low-Fat Protein Sources
Protein contains essential amino acids needed to maintain many aspects of your health, including regulating growth and development and supporting lean muscle mass.
Unfortunately, many good sources of protein are also high in fat. Choosing lean meats and other low-fat protein sources helps you get the amino acids your body requires without the added fat and calories.
You get protein without fat from whole-grain foods as well.
Legumes are good fat-free sources of protein. Most beans contain 14 to 17 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat per cooked cup.
Boneless, skinless chicken breast is an excellent choice providing 27 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat per 3-ounce portion.
You can select many types of fish or seafood for low-fat protein. Steam, bake or grill these options to keep them low-fat.
Reduce the Sodium in Your Food
NCDs are the main contributor to mortality and morbidity globally, and interventions to reduce the burden of NCDs are highly cost-effective.
Elevated sodium intake has been associated with a number of NCDs (including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke), and decreasing sodium intake may reduce blood pressure and the risk of associated NCDs.
Recent data on sodium intake show that populations around the world are consuming much more sodium than is physiologically necessary.
In many cases, they are consuming much more than the current WHO recommendation on sodium consumption for adults, which is 2 g sodium/day (equivalent to 5 g salt/day).
More than 70% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, and vinegar in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor.
Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables. Cook pasta, rice and hot cereal without salt. Cook by grilling, braising, roasting, searing and sautéing to bring out natural flavors. This will reduce the need to add salt.
Tips for a Healthy Diet
Think of water as a nutrient your body needs that is present in liquids, plain water, and foods. Make an eating plan each week.
Prepare most of your meals at home using whole or minimally processed foods. Choose from a variety of different proteins to keep things interesting.
Eat at least three meals a day with snacks in between. Eat smaller meals more often.
To avoid unhealthy weight gain, consumption of total fat should not exceed 30% of a person’s overall energy intake. Avoid trans fat. Limit saturated fat to less than 10 % of calories a day.
Replace saturated fat with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
For a healthy diet, sugars should represent less than 10% of your total energy intake. Reducing even further to under 5% has additional health benefits.
Choosing fresh fruits instead of sweet snacks such as cookies, cakes, and chocolate helps reduce consumption of sugars. Limiting intake of soft drinks, soda and other drinks high in sugars (fruit juices, flavored, and yogurt drinks) also helps reduce intake of sugars.