What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to fight infections, as well as how likely we are to develop health problems later in life, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and different types of cancer.
The exact ingredients of a healthy diet will depend on different factors like how old and how active we are, as well as the kinds of foods that are available in the communities where we live. But across cultures, there are some common food tips for helping us lead healthier, longer lives.
Top tips 1. Eat a variety of food
Our bodies are incredibly complex, and (with the exception of breast milk for babies) no single food contains all the nutrients we need for them to work at their best. Our diets must, therefore, contain a wide variety of fresh and nutritious foods to keep us going strong.
Some tips to ensure a balanced diet:
- 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 fiber and can help you feel full for longer.
- For snacks, choose raw vegetables, unsalted nuts, and fresh fruit, rather than foods that are high in sugars, fats or salt.
Top tips 2. Cut back on salt
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 a limit of 5 grams (equivalent to a teaspoon) a day.
Even if we don’t add extra salt in our food, we should be aware that it is commonly put in processed foods or drinks, and often in high amounts.
Some tips to reduce your salt intake:
- When cooking and preparing foods, use salt sparingly and reduce the 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.
Top tips 3. Reduce the use of certain fats and oil
We all need some fat in our diet, but eating too much – especially the wrong kinds – increases risks of obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Industrially-produced trans fats are the most hazardous for health. A diet high in this kind of fat has been found to raise the 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, trim meat of visible fat and limit the consumption of processed meats.
- Try steaming or boiling instead of frying food when cooking.
- 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.
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