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Healthy Diet

Poor diet is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor, and is a leading cause of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Around the world, an estimated 3 billion people lack access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

In the last 50 years, the increased availability of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to an unhealthy shift in dietary patterns.

A healthy diet is key to preventing both cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, such as diabetes and obesity. Eating a variety of fresh and whole foods every day can help you obtain the right amounts of essential nutrients to lower your risk of CVD and help you live a healthier, more active life. A healthy diet is especially important for young children, as it supports their development and sets a standard for them to follow later in life.

But healthy eating is not always entirely up to the individual. According to the World Health Organization, nearly one in four people around the world lack access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. People are strongly influenced by their social environments and economic circumstances, and for many, a healthy diet is simply inaccessible. The wide availability of processed and ultraprocessed foods, urbanisation and changing lifestyles have also contributed to an unhealthy shift in dietary patterns, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Individual responsibility can only have its full effect when people have access to a healthy lifestyle and are supported to make healthy choices. Supportive environments and communities are fundamental in shaping people’s dietary habits and preferences.

Poor diet is a leading risk factor for CVD, diabetes and obesity

3 BILLION

people lack access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food

Globally, poor communities are often the ones hurt most by unhealthy diets

A healthy diet may differ depending on your needs, where you live, your local customs and cultural norms, but the basic principles remain the same: lots of fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and restricted amounts of sugar, salt and fats (particularly saturated fats and trans fats).

Your total fat intake should not exceed 30% of your total energy intake, and you should avoid industrial trans fats. Limit your consumption of free sugars to less than 10% (ideally 5%) of your total energy intake and reduce your salt intake to less than 5g a day. Adults should consume at least five portions (400 grams) of fresh fruit and vegetables every day.

To recap, a balanced diet includes:

  • low levels of saturated and trans fats
  • low levels of salt
  • low levels of sugar
  • plenty of whole foods
  • plenty of fruit and vegetables

Eat a variety of foods

  • Eat a variety of whole (unprocessed) and fresh foods every day.
  • Eat a combination of different foods, including staple foods, legumes, vegetables and fruit.

Eat plenty of fruit & vegetables

  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • For snacks, choose raw vegetables and fresh fruit.
  • When using canned or dried vegetables and fruit, choose varieties without added salt and sugars.

Eat moderate amounts of fats & oils

  • Use unsaturated vegetable oils.
  • Choose white meat and fish over red meat.
  • Eat only limited amounts of processed meats.
  • Opt for low-fat or reduced-fat versions of milk and dairy products.
  • Avoid processed, baked and fried foods that contain industrially produced trans fat.

Eat less salt & sugars

  • When cooking and preparing foods, limit the amount of salt and high-sodium condiments.
  • Avoid foods that are high in salt and sugars.
  • Limit intake of soft drinks or soda and other drinks that are high in sugars.
  • Choose fresh fruits instead of sweet snacks.

It’s never too early to start looking after your heart. If you’re a parent, teacher or carer, you can play an important role in reducing your children’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

Teach your children how to recognize healthy food and make it exciting for them: choose colourful food, involve them in the cooking, and make funny plates. Most importantly, make sure their diet includes plenty of water, fruit, vegetables (french fries don’t count!), healthy protein and whole grains, and avoid foods that are high in added sugar, sodium and saturated fats, including sugary drinks, breakfast cereals and salty snacks.

Processed foods are manufactured by adding fats, oils, sugars, salt, and other culinary ingredients to minimally processed foods to make them more durable and usually more palatable. These types of foods include simple breads and cheeses; salted and cured meats, and seafood; and preserved fruits, legumes, and vegetables.

Ultra-processed food and drink products are industrial formulations manufactured from substances derived from foods or synthesized from other organic sources. In their current forms, they are inventions of modern industrial food science and technology. Most of these products contain little or no whole food. They are ready-to-consume or ready-to heat, and thus require little or no culinary preparation.

A considerable body of research highlights the large and significant impact of consuming ultraprocessed foods on the major NCDs, including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  The main message to consumers must be to reduce consumption of these unhealthy products and focus on less processed food and drink. Yet, when faced with many different products and conflicting claims, consumers need help.  Front-of-Pack Labelling (FOPL) systems support consumers in making better decisions and governments have many options when selecting a FOPL system that is best for their population.

The WHF Policy Brief on Front-of-Pack Labelling highlights front-of-pack labelling as a way to create environments where consumers are able to make better informed, healthier food choices for themselves and their families. It aims to improve global standards on nutrition and highlights front-of-pack labelling as a way to create environments where consumers are able to make better informed, healthier food choices for themselves and their families. It includes a set of policy recommendations to give governments the tools they need to select the FOPL system that will best meet the needs of their populations, including recommendations on how to develop an effective FOPL programme, how to implement it successfully, and how to monitor and evaluate outcomes.

Download the WHF Policy Brief on Front-of-Pack Labelling

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