Eating Healthy

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Eating healthy can significantly reduce a number of diseases for e.g. the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, etc.

A healthy diet includes the following:

  • Fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice). 
  • At least 400g (i.e. five portions) of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots.
  • Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars, which is equivalent to 50g (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. 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. 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. Industrially-produced trans-fats are not part of a healthy diet and should be avoided.
  • Less than 5g of salt (equivalent to about one teaspoon) per day.  Salt should be iodised.

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.

Practical advise on maintaining a healthy diet:

Fruits and vegetables

Eating at least 400g, or five portions, of fruit and vegetables per day reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and helps to ensure an adequate daily intake of dietary fibre.

Fruits and vegetables 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 fruits and vegetables.


Reducing the amount of total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake helps to prevent unhealthy weight gain in the adult population. 

Fat intake, especially saturated fat and industrially-produced trans-fat intake, can be reduced by:

  • Steaming or boiling instead of frying when cooking;
  • Replacing butter, lard and ghee with oils rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as soybean, canola (rapeseed), corn, safflower and sunflower oils;
  • Eating reduced-fat dairy foods and lean meats, or trimming visible fat from meat; and
  • Limiting the consumption of baked and fried foods, and pre-packaged snacks and foods (e.g. doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies and biscuits) that contain industrially-produced trans-fats.

Salt, sodium and potassium

Most people consume too much sodium through salt (corresponding to consuming an average of 9–12g of salt per day) and not enough potassium (less than 3.5g). High sodium intake and insufficient potassium intake contribute to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Salt intake can be reduced by:

  • Limiting the amount of salt and high-sodium condiments when cooking and preparing foods;
  • Not having salt or high-sodium sauces on the table;
  • Limiting the consumption of salty snacks; and
  • Choosing products with lower sodium content.


Consuming free sugars increases the risk of dental caries (tooth decay). Excess calories from foods and drinks high in free sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which can lead to overweight and obesity. Recent evidence also shows that free sugars influence blood pressure and serum lipids and suggests that a reduction in free sugars intake reduces risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Sugar intake can be reduced by:

  • Limiting the consumption of foods and drinks containing high amounts of sugars, such as sugary snacks, candies and sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e. all types of beverages containing free sugars – these include carbonated or non‐carbonated soft drinks, fruit or vegetable juices and drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready‐to‐drink tea, ready‐to‐drink coffee and flavoured milk drinks); and
  • Eating fresh fruits and raw vegetables as snacks instead of sugary snacks.​

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