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The 13 keys to a healthy (and sustainable) diet

In *All, Nutrition & Health by Ag is America

Yesterday was World Health Day, celebrated every 7th of April under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise health awareness across the globe. This campaign dates back to 1950, a couple of years after the First World Health Assembly was held, and it’s supported by the 194 member states, including the USA.

Over the years, the WHO has accumulated several studies about nutrition meant to not only impact community’s knowledge about their own personal food choices, but also to encourage governments to regulate consumer goods.

With nutrition so important to local communities and governments, many land-grant universities have created nutrition initiatives to promote the well-being of American citizens and extend their knowledge to the global community. These are some of our favorites:

  • Plugged-in to Nutrition, by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is a campaign to raise awareness about general nutrition, food and diet to nontraditional audiences via social media, online courses and other digital platforms.
  • Know your Nutrition, by Georgia State University, is an information portal about nutrition basics and the latest news on food.
  • Health and Well-Being, by the University of Wisconsin, is an initiative that works to promote positive change in Wisconsin families through evidence-based programs.
  • Smart Bodies, by Louisiana State University, is an interactive program designed to help prevent child obesity in collaboration with the Blue Cross and the Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.

In addition to the great work of your local universities, the following guidelines are part of an information sheet published this past November by WHO on how to follow a healthy and Earth-sustainable diet:

  1. Consume just enough calories to meet energy needs. Overeating is detrimental to human and planetary health.
  2. Choose fresh and home-prepared, locally produced foods. Avoid highly processed foods, especially those which are high in fat, sugar or salt and/or low in vitamins, minerals and fiber. It is important to check food labels.
  3. Eat at least two to three portions of fruit every day, preferably fresh, seasonal and locally sourced. WHO recommends eating more than five portions (400 grams) of fruits and vegetables combined per day.
  4. Eat at least two to three portions of vegetables every day. Choose vegetables grown in fields, rather than in a greenhouse or those preserved in sustainable ways (such as fermentation) and which do not need rapid, energy-intensive transport. Reduce food wastage by also eating “ugly” vegetables and fruits – cosmetic imperfections do not mean less nutritious produce.
  5. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots do not count as portions of vegetables, but do feature in a healthy diet, preferably in minimally-processed forms.
  6. Cereals should be mainly consumed as whole grains – such as unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat or brown rice – rather than in refined forms (e.g. white rice, bread or pasta).
  7. Consume moderate amounts of milk and dairy products (or dairy alternatives) and choose versions that are low in fat, salt and sugar.
  8. Limit consumption of red meat and processed meat products – some national and international bodies suggest limits of around 500 grams of cooked meat per week, with very small amounts, if any, of processed meat products.
  9. Consume fish and shellfish around twice a week, preferably from recognized/certified sustainable sources.
  10. Eat pulses (sometimes known as legumes) regularly. Dried beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of protein, fiber and other nutrients and are naturally low in fat. Pulses are a good alternative to meat and can play a key role in future healthy and sustainable diets.
  11. Include modest amounts of fats and oils, mainly from vegetable sources, and, preferably those containing unsaturated fats. Avoid industrially produced trans-fats (e.g. partially hydrogenated oils), which can be found in processed food, fast food, snack food and fried foods. Use healthier cooking methods, use vegetable oils and boil, steam or bake rather than fry.
  12. Drink safe tap water (or from other improved sources such as protected boreholes) in preference to other drinks, especially sugar-sweetened drinks. Intake of fruit juices should also be limited, since these contribute to free sugars – one 150 ml glass of unsweetened orange juice, for example, contains around 15 g of free sugars.
  13. Prepare food using hygienic practices: washing hands before handling food and after going to the toilet, sanitizing surfaces and protecting them from insects, pests and animals, separating raw and cooked food, cooking food thoroughly and storing at safe temperatures, and using safe water to wash produce eaten raw.

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