The relationship between diet and many lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension has been documented, with people being asked to eat healthy.
So, what is a healthy diet? This is a diet that contains important nutrients that are required to prevent diseases, and sufficient calories to meet the daily requirements.
Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, low fat milk, lean meats, whole grain cereal products, and a low content of saturated fatty acids.
Choose whole grain products more often. All grains start life as whole grains while growing in the ﬁelds, where they have three original parts namely the bran, germ, and endosperm. Once any of these three items are removed during processing, the grain is no longer whole. White ﬂour and white rice are some of the reﬁned grains, since both have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. A refined grain has a quarter of the protein removed. For white grains, serve moderately.
Fruits and vegetables
These can be fresh or frozen. Fruit can also be in the form of fresh juice or dried fruits. When it comes to consumption, serve moderately sweetened fruits or juices.
Choose lower fat and unsweetened products, low fat milk and natural yoghurt. When it comes to sweetened milk and yoghurt as well as ice cream, serve moderately.
Meat and its alternatives
Choose lean cuts of meat, fish, poultry and dried beans and peas for proteins. Use low fat cooking methods and use in moderation any added oil. Serve moderately processed meats, bacon, chicken wings or fried meats.
Below are six aspects of diet for which strong scientific evidence indicates have important health implications.
Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, including sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones reduces the risk of heart diseases by cutting serum Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Also, polyunsaturated fats (including fish oils) prevents lifestyle diseases. Intake of omega-3 fatty acids is low in many populations, particularly where fish intake is down. A change in the type of oil used for food preparation is often quite feasible and not expensive if one is to remain healthy.
Ensure generous consumption of fruits and vegetables and adequate folic acid intake:
Strong scientific evidence indicates that high intake of fruits and vegetables will reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases. Supplementation with folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defect in pregnancies. However, across many populations, consumption of fruits and vegetables is low.
Consume cereal products in their whole-grain, high-fibre form:
Consuming grains in whole-grain, high-fibre form has double benefits. First, consumption of fibre from cereal products has consistently been associated with lower risks of heart diseases and Type 2 diabetes. This is because of both the fibre itself and the vitamins and minerals naturally present in whole grains. High consumption of refined starches exacerbates overweight and obesity and is associated with higher risks of lifestyle diseases. Second, higher consumption of dietary fibre helps prevent constipation.
Limit consumption of sugar and sugar-based beverages:
Sugar (free sugars refined from sugarcane or sugar beets and high- fructose corn sweeteners) has no nutritional value except for calories and, thus, has negative health implications and is a risk for overweight and obesity. The World Health Organisation suggests an upper limit of 10 percent of energy from sugar, but lower intakes are usually desirable because of the adverse metabolic effects and empty calories.
Limit excessive caloric intake from any source:
Given the importance of overweight and obesity in the cause of many chronic diseases, avoiding excessive consumption of energy from any source is fundamentally important. High calorie foods include sugar drinks, white bread, chips and even alcohol.
Limit sodium intake:
The principle justification for limiting sodium is its effect on blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke and coronary disease. Sodium sources include salt, breads and, pizza, cured meats, sandwiches and soups.
Healthy eating principles
Have a variety in food choices; have adequate meals; have balanced meals; have nutritious meals; moderate use of fats and sugars; ensure safety in food production, preparation and storage and
minimise use of processed foods.
Ndungi is based at the Department of Human Nutrition, Egerton University.