Healthy Diet

The basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same
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The exact make-up of a diversified, balanced and healthy diet will vary depending on individual characteristics (e.g. age, gender, lifestyle and degree of physical activity), cultural context, locally available foods, and dietary customs. However, the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same.

For adults 

A healthy diet 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 (2), excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other starchy roots. 
  • Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars (2, 7), 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 (7). 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. 
  • Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats (1, 2, 3). 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 (5). In particular, industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided (4, 6). 
  • Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to about one teaspoon) per day (8). Salt should be iodized. 
For infants and young children 

In the first 2 years of a child’s life, optimal nutrition fosters healthy growth and improves cognitive development. It also reduces the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing NCDs later in life. 

Advice on a healthy diet for infants and children is similar to that for adults, but the following elements are also important: 

  • Infants should be breastfed exclusively during the first 6 months of life. 
  • 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-dense foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.
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Practical advice on maintaining a healthy diet 

Fruit and vegetables Eating at least 400 g, or five portions, of fruit and vegetables per day reduces the risk of NCDs (2) and helps to ensure an adequate daily intake of dietary fiber. 

Fruit and vegetable intake can be improved by: 

  • always including vegetables in meals; 
  • eating fresh fruit and raw vegetables as snacks; 
  • eating fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season; and 
  • eating a variety of fruit and vegetables.

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