Malnutrition can be caused by an insufficient intake of food or of certain nutrients, by an inability of the body to absorb and use nutrients or by over consumption of certain foods. Examples include obesity caused by excess energy intake, anaemia caused by insufficient intake of iron, and impaired sight because of inadequate intake of vitamin A.
Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life course helps prevents malnutrition in all its forms. But the increased production of processed food, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in the dietary pattern.
The exact makeup of a healthy, balanced, diversified diet will vary depending on the individual’s needs (age gender, lifestyle and physical activity) cultural context, local availability of food and dietary customs.
- Fruits vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice).
- At least 400 g (5 portions) of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots are not classified as fruits or vegetables.
- Less than 10% of total energy intake from free sugars, which is equivalent to 50 g (or around 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming approximately 2000 calories per day, but ideally less than 5% of total energy intake for additional health benefits.
- Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats (1, 2, 3).Unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, sunflower, canola and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard) (3). Industrial trans fats (found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarine and spreads) are not part of a healthy diet.
- Less than 5 g of salt (equivalent to approximately 1 teaspoon) per day and use iodized salt.
For Infants and Young childrenIn 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.
Advice on Healthy Diet for infants and children is similar to that of adults, but the following elements are 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 complementary foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.
How To Promote Healthy Diets
Diet evolves over time, being influenced by many factors and complex interactions, income, food prices, individual preferences and beliefs, cultural traditions, as well as geographical, environmental, social and economic factors interact in a complex manner to shape individual dietary patterns.
Therefore, promoting a healthy food environment, requires involvement across different sectors including government as well as public and private.
Encouraging consumer demands healthy foods and diets promote consumer awareness of a healthy diet.
Develop school policies and programmes that encourage children to adopt and maintain a healthy diet.
Educate children, adolescents and adults about nutrition and healthy dietary practices.
Encourage culinary skills, including in schools.
Support point-of-sale information, including through food labelling that ensures accurate, standardized and comprehensible information on nutrient contents in food in line with the
Codex Alimentarius Commission Guidelines
Provide nutrition and dietary counselling at primary health care facilities.
Promoting appropriate infant and young child feeding practices:
- Implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions.
- Implement policies and practices to promote the protection of working mothers;
- Promote, protect and support breastfeeding in health services and the community, including through the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative.