What is a Healthy Diet for WHO and how it would benefit you

What is a Healthy Diet for WHO and how it would benefit you

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Healthy Eating Facts and Figures

  • A healthy diet helps protect us from malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • Unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity are among the top health risk factors around the world.
  • Healthy eating habits begin in the first years of life. Breastfeeding promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development; In addition, it can provide long-term benefits, such as reducing the risk of being overweight and obese and suffering from non-communicable diseases later in life.
  • Caloric intake should be in line with caloric expenditure. Available scientific data indicates that fats should not exceed 30% of total caloric intake to avoid weight gain (1, 2, 3), which means switching from saturated fat to unsaturated fat ( 3) and gradually eliminate industrial trans fats (4).
  • Limiting the consumption of free sugar to less than 10% of the total caloric intake (2, 5) is part of a healthy diet. To obtain greater benefits, it is recommended to reduce its consumption to less than 5% of the total caloric intake (5).
  • Keeping salt intake below 5 grams per day helps prevent hypertension and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke in the adult population (6).
  • WHO Member States have agreed to reduce salt intake among the world's population by 30% and halt the rise in obesity and diabetes in adults and adolescents, as well as child overweight by 2025 (7, 8, 9).

General view

Eating a healthy diet throughout life helps prevent malnutrition in all its forms, as well as different non-communicable diseases and different conditions. However, increasing processed food production, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a change in eating habits. Now we consume more hypercaloric foods, more saturated fats, more trans fats, more free sugars and more salt or sodium; Also, there are many people who do not eat enough fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber, such as whole grains.

The exact composition of a healthy, balanced and varied diet depends on the needs of each person (for example, age, gender, lifestyle, physical exercise), cultural context, locally available foods and eating habits. However, the basic principles of healthy eating are always the same.


To have a healthy diet you must:

  • eat fruits, vegetables, legumes (for example, lentils, beans), nuts, and whole grains (for example, unprocessed corn, millet, oatmeal, wheat, or brown rice);
  • at least 400 g (5 servings) of fruit and vegetables per day (2). Potatoes (potatoes), sweet potatoes (sweet potato, sweet potato), cassava (cassava) and other starchy tubers are not considered as fruits or vegetables.
  • limiting free sugar intake to less than 10% of total caloric intake (2, 5), which equates to 50 grams (or about 12 level teaspoons) for a healthy-weight person who consumes about 2,000 calories per day day, although to obtain greater benefits, it is ideally recommended to reduce its consumption to less than 5% of the total caloric intake (5). It is manufacturers, cooks or the consumer himself who add most of the free sugars to food. Free sugar can also be present in natural sugar from honey, syrups, and fruit juices and concentrates;
  • limit fat consumption (1, 2, 3) to 30% of daily caloric intake. Unsaturated fats (present, for example, in fish oil, avocados, nuts, or sunflower, canola and olive oil) are preferable to saturated fats (present, for example, in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard) (3). Industrial trans fats (found in processed foods, fast food, snacks, fried foods, frozen pizzas, cakes, cookies, margarines, and spreads) are not part of a healthy diet;
  • Limit salt intake to less than 5 grams a day (about a teaspoon) (6) and consume iodized salt.

Infants and young children

In the first two years of a child's life, optimal nutrition promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development. In addition, it reduces the risk of being overweight and obese and of developing non-communicable diseases later on.

The tips for healthy eating during infancy and childhood are the same as for adults, but the tips below are also important.

  • Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
  • Breastfeeding should continue for at least two years.
  • From six months of age, complementary, varied, adequate, safe and nutritious foods should be introduced into the child's diet, without abandoning breastfeeding. Salt or sugar should not be added to complementary foods.

Practical tips to maintain a healthy diet

Fruits, vegetables and greens

Eating at least five pieces or servings (or 400 g) of fruits and vegetables a day reduces the risk of developing non-communicable diseases (2) and helps ensure a sufficient daily intake of dietary fiber.

In order to improve the consumption of fruits and vegetables you can:

  • include vegetables in all meals;
  • eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables as snacks;
  • eat fresh fruits and vegetables in season;
  • eat a varied selection of fruits and vegetables.


Reducing total fat intake to less than 30% of daily caloric intake helps prevent weight gain in the adult population (1, 2, 3).

In addition, the risk of developing non-communicable diseases decreases by reducing the consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of the daily caloric intake, and of trans fats to less than 1%, and by substituting those fats for unsaturated fats (2. 3).

Fat intake can be reduced as follows:

  • modifying the way of cooking: separating the fat part of the meat; using vegetable oils (of non-animal origin); cooking or steaming or baking food rather than frying it;
  • avoiding the consumption of processed foods that contain trans fats;
  • reducing the consumption of foods high in saturated fat (eg cheese, ice cream, fatty meats).

Salt, sodium and potassium

Most people consume too much sodium from salt (an average of 9 to 12 g of salt daily) and do not consume enough potassium. A high intake of salt and insufficient potassium (less than 3.5 g) contributes to high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (6, 10).

1.7 million deaths could be avoided each year if salt intake were reduced to the recommended level, that is, less than 5 grams per day (11).

You are often not aware of the amount of salt you consume. In many countries, most of this salt comes from processed foods (for example, ready meals, processed meats such as bacon, ham, pepperoni, cheese, or salty snacks) or from foods that are frequently consumed in large quantities (for example, bread). Salt is also added to food when it is cooked (eg broths, stock concentrates of various kinds, soy sauce and fish sauce) or at the table (eg table salt).

Salt consumption can be reduced as follows:

  • not adding salt, soy sauce or fish sauce when preparing food;
  • not putting salt on the table;
  • reducing the consumption of salty snacks;
  • choosing products with less sodium content.

Some food manufacturers are reformulating their recipes to reduce the salt content of their products; In addition, it is always advisable to read food labels to check the amount of sodium in a product before buying or consuming it.

Potassium intake, which can mitigate the negative effects of high sodium intake on blood pressure, can be increased by consuming fruits and vegetables.


The intake of free sugars should be reduced throughout life (5). Available data indicate that free sugar intake in children and adults should be reduced to less than 10% of total caloric intake (2, 5); for the greatest health benefits, that amount should be less than 5% (5). Free sugar refers to all the sugars that manufacturers, chefs or consumers themselves add to food or beverages to be consumed, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and juices and concentrates of fruits.

Consuming free sugar increases the risk of tooth decay. Excess calories from foods and beverages that are high in free sugar also contribute to weight gain, which can lead to overweight and obesity.

Sugar intake can be reduced as follows:

  • limiting consumption of foods and beverages that are high in sugar (for example, sugary drinks, sugary snacks, and sweets); Y
  • eating raw fruits and vegetables instead of sugary snacks.

How to promote a healthy diet

Diet evolves over time and is influenced by many complex factors and interactions. Income, food prices (which will affect the availability of healthy food and its affordability), individual preferences and beliefs, cultural traditions, and geographic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors interact in complex ways to shape individual habits of feeding.

Therefore, promoting a healthy food environment, including food systems that promote a diversified, balanced and healthy diet, requires the participation of different actors and sectors, including the public sector and the private sector.

Public authorities play a fundamental role in creating a healthy eating environment that allows the individual to adopt and maintain healthy eating habits.

Here are some practical steps that policymakers can take to create a framework for healthy eating:

  • Harmonize national investment policies and plans, in particular trade, food and agricultural policies, to promote healthy eating and protect public health:
    • offer more incentives to growers and retailers to grow, use and sell fresh fruits and vegetables;
    • discourage the continuation and increase of the production of processed foods with saturated fats and free sugars by the food industry;
    • encourage the reformulation of the composition of food products, in order to reduce their content in salt, fats (saturated and trans-type) and free sugars;
    • implement the WHO recommendations on the promotion of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children;
    • enact regulations that promote healthy eating habits by ensuring the availability of healthy, safe and affordable food in kindergartens, schools, other public institutions and workplaces;
    • study the possibility of developing normative instruments for voluntary compliance, such as policies on food marketing and labeling, and economic incentive or deterrent measures (for example, taxes and subsidies) to promote healthy eating; Y
    • Encourage transnational, national and local dining and catering services to improve the nutritional quality of the foods they offer, ensure the availability and accessibility of healthy options, and review the size and price of rations.
  • Promote among consumers the demand for healthy food products and meals:
    • sensitize consumers about healthy diet;
    • formulate school policies and programs that encourage children to adopt a healthy diet;
    • educate children, adolescents and adults in nutrition and healthy eating habits;
    • promote the learning of culinary skills, including in schools;
    • help to improve information on food products at points of sale, for example through labeling that ensures accurate, standardized and understandable information on their nutritional content, in line with the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius Commission; Y
    • provide advice on feeding and diet in primary health care services.
  • Promote proper eating habits among infants and young children:
    • implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions;
    • apply policies and practices that promote the protection of working mothers;
    • promote, protect and support breastfeeding in health services and community services, including through the Children's Friendly Hospital Initiative.

WHO response

The “WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” (12) was adopted in 2004 by the World Health Assembly. It calls on governments, WHO, international partners, the private sector and civil society to take action at the global, regional and local levels to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

In 2010, the World Health Assembly approved a series of recommendations on the promotion of food and non-alcoholic beverages directed at children (13). These recommendations are intended to guide countries in devising new policies and improving existing ones in order to reduce the effects of unhealthy food marketing on children. WHO is helping to create a standard nutrient profile that countries can use as a means of implementing marketing recommendations.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly adopted a comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant, and young child nutrition and six global targets to be achieved by 2025, including reduction of stunting, infant wasting and overweight, improved breastfeeding, and reduction of anemia and low birth weight (7).

In 2013, the World Health Assembly agreed to nine global voluntary targets for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, including halting the rise in diabetes and obesity, and a 30% relative reduction in salt intake by 2025. The "WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020" (8) provides guidance and policy options to Member States, WHO and others. United Nations agencies to achieve the goals.

Because many countries are currently experiencing a rapid rise in obesity among infants and children, in May 2014, the WHO created a committee on childhood obesity. The committee will produce a report in 2015 outlining the strategies and measures it considers most effective for different contexts around the world.

In November 2014, the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) jointly organized the second International Conference on Nutrition. The Conference adopted the Rome Declaration on Nutrition (14) and the Framework for Action (15), recommending a set of policy options and strategies to promote a varied, safe and healthy diet at all stages of the life. WHO is helping countries implement the commitments made at this Conference.

Source: World Health Organization


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