Food is many things to most people – cultural, traditional, sensual and even spiritual. But for health, it should be primarily nutritious.
Unhealthy diets are a major risk factor for malnutrition, mainly through excess weight and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Low-cost policy solutions – including proven measures such as accurate, easy to understand labelling and sugar taxes – are needed to promote healthy eating habits.
1. Eat a variety of foods
Eating a variety of foods can help ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. A healthy diet should consist of foods from each of the five food groups and be low in salt, free sugars and fats (including saturated and trans fats).
But it can seem impossible to do that in an unhealthy world where fast-food outlets offer cheap, high-calorie meals that are linked to obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and where portion sizes keep getting bigger.
But trying to make healthy choices does not have to be complicated. It is simply about removing the bad foods and eating more of the good ones. Try to eat from the wholefoods group as much as possible and use foods such as yoghurt, nuts, seeds and fruit for snacks.
2. Don’t overdo it
What you eat has a major impact on your health and can help protect against malnutrition, which is a leading global risk to human health. Unhealthy diets are associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Changing food environments, economic circumstances and lifestyles have contributed to an unhealthy shift in dietary patterns worldwide.
It’s easy to get caught up in busy life, bookmarking healthy recipes and picking up kale at the grocery store. But the next thing you know, a hectic day has you at the drive-thru and your stomach is in knots after downing a fatty cheeseburger and salty fries. Eating healthy requires a commitment, not just a passing fling. Learn how to choose healthier options by lowering your intake of high-calorie foods and reducing portion sizes when eating out.
3. Eat slowly
In many parts of the world, the food environment makes it challenging to eat healthy. People struggle with access to nutritious foods, which is often affected by poverty and environmental factors like changing climates. These issues can lead to an unhealthy shift in diets towards high-calorie, fatty foods and large food portions, as well as low intakes of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
These unhealthful diets contribute to malnutrition, including under-nutrition and overnutrition, obesity and diet-related chronic (long-term) diseases. Healthy eating means choosing a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and limiting salt, added sugars and industrial trans fats. Eating healthy might seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Take it slow and think about how you can make small changes in your food choices.
4. Eat with others
Many people have a hard time maintaining healthy eating habits in social situations. They may be tempted to eat more processed foods, fatty meats and sugary drinks when out with friends or family.
But, eating healthily doesn’t have to be an isolating activity. In fact, it’s often healthier and more fun to dine with loved ones.
Eating with family and friends can help expand your meal horizons by introducing you to new recipes and ingredients. For example, you could try cooking with different types of oils or swapping butter for olive oil when baking. You can also encourage your family to get involved in growing their own vegetables in the garden. This will give them a sense of pride in their food and encourage healthy choices.
5. Take your time
Eating healthy can be a bit time consuming at first but once you develop the habit it will become as automatic as taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Try to make preparing and eating healthier foods non-negotiable by scheduling meals and snacks, researching restaurant meal choices online before you go and making it an appointment that you keep with yourself rather than an afterthought.
Slow down at meals and take the time to appreciate your food (and any people with you). It takes a few minutes for your brain to signal that you’re full so eat slowly, don’t wolf down your food and find ways to eat mindfully. Eating slower can help you feel more nourished, improve digestion and give you a greater appreciation for food as something to be enjoyed rather than just a means to fuel your body.