How healthy is your diet?

Healthy diet

A healthy diet is essential for good health and nutrition.

It protects you against many chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Eating a variety of foods and consuming less salt, sugars and saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats, are essential for healthy diet.

A healthy diet comprises a combination of different foods. These include:

Here is some useful information, based on WHO recommendations, to follow a healthy diet, and the benefits of doing so.

  • Breastfeed babies and young children:
    • A healthy diet starts early in life – breastfeeding fosters healthy growth, and may have longer-term health benefits, like reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing noncommunicable diseases later in life.
    • Feeding babies exclusively with breast milk from birth to 6 months of life is important for a healthy diet. It is also important to introduce a variety of safe and nutritious complementary foods at 6 months of age, while continuing to breastfeed until your child is two years old and beyond.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit:
    • They are important sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, plant protein and antioxidants.
    • People with diets rich in vegetables and fruit have a significantly lower risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
  • Eat less fat:
    • Fats and oils and concentrated sources of energy. Eating too much, particularly the wrong kinds of fat, like saturated and industrially-produced trans-fat, can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
    • Using unsaturated vegetable oils (olive, soy, sunflower or corn oil) rather than animal fats or oils high in saturated fats (butter, ghee, lard, coconut and palm oil) will help consume healthier fats.
    • To avoid unhealthy weight gain, consumption of total fat should not exceed 30% of a person’s overall energy intake.
  • Limit intake of sugars:
    • For a healthy diet, sugars should represent less than 10% of your total energy intake. Reducing even further to under 5% has additional health benefits.
    • Choosing fresh fruits instead of sweet snacks such as cookies, cakes and chocolate helps reduce consumption of sugars.
    • Limiting intake of soft drinks, soda and other drinks high in sugars (fruit juices, cordials and syrups, flavoured milks and yogurt drinks) also helps reduce intake of sugars.
  • Reduce salt intake:
    • Keeping your salt intake to less than 5h per day helps prevent hypertension and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke in the adult population.
    • Limiting the amount of salt and high-sodium condiments (soy sauce and fish sauce) when cooking and preparing foods helps reduce salt intake.

More information:

  • WHO 5 keys to a healthy diet
  • WHO healthy diet fact sheet
  • WHO salt reduction fact sheet
  • WHO obesity and overweight fact sheet

How healthy is YOUR diet? Take this test to find out whether you need to spring clean your health

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How healthy is your diet?

(HealthDay)—As Americans, we’re making some headway in our efforts to improve the quality of our diet, but we’re far from ideal levels.

Research shows that healthier eating prevented over a million premature deaths in the 13-year period from 1999 to 2012, along with 8.6 percent fewer heart disease cases, 1.3 percent fewer cancer cases, and 12.6 percent fewer type 2 diabetes cases.

An index that measures diet quality increased from 40 to over 48, but that’s still a long way from the perfect score of 110.

Also, most of the improvement came from just two steps—reducing consumption of trans fat (largely because of government action to ban it) and sugar-sweetened beverages. Little progress was made in most of the key components of a healthy diet.

An analysis of data from the USDA Economic Research Service by the Pew Research Center found that while we’re eating more chicken and less beef, we’re also each consuming 36 pounds of cooking oil a year—three times the amount Americans ate 50 years ago. We’re also each eating on average 23 percent more calories than we were back then. It’s no wonder obesity rates are so high.

And yet it only takes small changes to make a difference. For instance, one report found that what’s needed to turn the average diet into one that can reduce heart disease risk isn’t complicated: It should be rich in fish, fruit and vegetables, and low in full-fat dairy products and meat.

Wondering where to begin? Baby steps can make a difference. Eating just 3 more ounces of fish a week and 3 more ounces each of raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and lean protein like chicken every day promotes healthier blood vessels and decreases inflammation. This, in turn, can help keep heart disease at bay.

Explore further

Here’s how to pack protein into your diet More information: You can read the Pew Research Center report on the health of the American diet online and see how your diet compares.

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Quiz: Do You Eat too Much?

We all love to have a snack every now and then, but when you find yourself eating without even noticing it, you could be taking in too much. Whether it’s for emotional reasons or even just because you’re bored, this quiz can help you find out where your meals (or meals between meals) come from.

1. Your boss tells you she’s not happy with your work. You:

  1. Go to the cafeteria and comfort yourself with a snack from the vending machine
  2. Get on the phone and bad-mouth her to your friends
  3. Immediately make plans to become more focused on your work

2. Your 5-year-old son doesn’t finish supper. You:

  1. Eat the leftovers — good food should not go to waste
  2. Insist he finishes his meal
  3. Give the leftovers to the dog

3. When you’re bored, you:

  1. Head for the fridge — it’s snack time!
  2. Occasionally snack, but try to stick to fruit and veggies
  3. Call a friend, browse the Internet or find some way to stay busy

4. You’ve just eaten a bag of potato chips even though you weren’t hungry.
You feel:

  1. Guilty, angry or ashamed
  2. You feel bad — but commit to not overeating the rest of the week
  3. You’re not too worried. Random snacking like this doesn’t happen often

5. You’ve joined a weight-loss group and lost weight this week. Feeling pleased, you:

  1. Treat yourself to your favourite foods — you deserve it
  2. Splurge on a new dress to show off your slimmer figure
  3. Use the news as motivation to keep working

6. How do you plan your family’s weekly meals?

  1. I have a busy family life. We have fast foods most days
  2. I usually plan for the week, but every now and then get quick and easy take-out
  3. I plan our meals and shop ahead

7. You are having trouble making a big decision about an important issue. You:

  1. Go out for a muffin and coffee — eating calms you and helps you come to a decision
  2. Write out pros and cons for different options, and then celebrate with a treat when you’ve come to a decision
  3. Work on something else — you’ll come to a decision later

8. Do you tend to graze all day long, never allowing yourself to really feel hungry?

  1. Almost always — I can’t concentrate when I’m hungry
  2. Sometimes, mostly when I’m bored
  3. Never. I eat three healthy meals a day

If You Answered Mostly As
You might be turning to food when you’re emotional. Break the cycle by listening to your body’s cues. If the urge to overindulge hits, do something else instead — like going for a walk. If you’re truly distressed about your situation, speak with your doctor.

If You Answered Mostly Bs
You are on the right track but occasionally turn to food for comfort. Food should be pleasurable — be careful not to overdo it. To develop healthier habits, write down what you eat and why.

If You Answered Mostly Cs
You’re a healthy eater and deal appropriately with emotions.

Help for Overcoming Emotional Eating

  • Try to get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation tends to increase hunger by decreasing the appetite-regulating hormone that signals fullness.
  • Find alternatives to eating: Go for a walk or try a form of relaxation such as yoga.
  • Beat boredom by finding a new hobby or revisiting an old one
  • Volunteer: You’ll most likely be staying active while helping others, too!
  • Don’t bottle up your emotions — learn to speak your mind.
  • Exercise: Research shows that working out helps relieve stress and makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Drink water: Thirst is often mistaken for hunger.

When your to-do list just keeps multiplying and you feel like there’s “never enough time in the day,” you may eat the majority of your meals on autopilot. And hey, sometimes that’s necessary. If you want to give your everyday eating habits a healthy diagnostic though, try taking the healthy diet quiz designed by nutrition experts at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

The 10-minute questionnaire differs from other online quizzes about what constitutes a healthy diet. Yes, you’ll run through familiar questions about your macros (the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that make up your diet). But the quiz also names a specific food—like pumpkin—and ask whether you eat it “less than once a week or never” or “once a week or more often.” Because of this extra step, the quiz gets a more better idea of what a week of eating looks like for you.

After answering questions about about the vegetables, fruits, proteins, plant-based proteins, grains, dairy, condiments, and water you consume over the course of seven days, your diet gets a score up to 73 points. A score below 33 “needs work,” between 33 and 38 is “getting there,” between 39 and 46 is “excellent,” and above 47 is “outstanding.” You’ll also get a comprehensive report on the areas where your diet is fueling you, and the parts that could use improvement.

At first, I felt personally offended by my score of 37 points. Then I realized that I wasn’t being penalized for the food already in my diet. Instead, the folks at the University of Newcastle want me to diversify the eating styles of those who take the 10-minute questionnaire. For example, I mostly eat cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spinach for my daily intake of veggies. Maybe I need to shake things up and add in green peas, tomato, and corn.

Whether you decide to take every piece of advice or not, the quiz serves to identify nutritional holes in the 21 meals you consume on a weekly basis.

Stock up on a dietitian’s Whole Foods shopping list to add a little variety to your fridge:

Learn the “core four” for making a healthy plate at every meal, and don’t forget healthy desserts, too!

Nutrition: Tips for Improving Your Health

Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. You can improve your health by keeping a balanced diet. You should eat foods that contain vitamins and minerals. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and a source of protein.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to any of them, talk to your doctor about your health. You may need to improve your eating habits for better nutrition.

  • Do you have a health problem or risk factor, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
    • Did your doctor tell you that you can improve your condition with better nutrition?
  • Do diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or osteoporosis run in your family?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you have questions about what foods you should eat or whether you should take vitamins?
  • Do you think that you would benefit from seeing a registered dietitian or someone who specializes in nutrition counseling?

Path to improved health

It can be hard to change your eating habits. It helps if you focus on small changes. Making changes to your diet may also be beneficial if you have diseases that can be made worse by things you are eating or drinking. Symptoms from conditions such as kidney disease, lactose intolerance, and celiac disease can all benefit from changes in diet. Below are suggestions to improve your health. Be sure to stay in touch with your doctor so they know how you are doing.

  • Find the strong and weak points in your current diet. Do you eat 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day? Do you get enough calcium? Do you eat whole grain, high-fiber foods? If so, you’re on the right track! Keep it up. If not, add more of these foods to your daily diet.
  • Keep track of your food intake by writing down what you eat and drink every day. This record will help you assess your diet. You’ll see if you need to eat more or less from certain food groups.
  • Think about asking for help from a dietitian. They can help you follow a special diet, especially if you have a health issue.

Almost everyone can benefit from cutting back on unhealthy fat. If you currently eat a lot of fat, commit to cutting back and changing your habits. Unhealthy fats include things such as: dark chicken meat; poultry skin; fatty cuts of pork, beef, and lamb; and high-fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheeses). Ways to cut back on unhealthy fats include:

  • Rather than frying meat, bake, grill, or broil it. Take off the skin before cooking chicken or turkey. Try eating fish at least once a week.
  • Reduce any extra fat. This includes butter on bread, sour cream on baked potatoes, and salad dressings. Use low-fat or nonfat versions of these foods.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with your meals and as snacks.
  • Read the nutrition labels on foods before you buy them. If you need help with the labels, ask your doctor or dietitian.
  • When you eat out, be aware of hidden fats and larger portion sizes.
  • Staying hydrated is important for good health. Drink zero- or low-calorie beverages, such as water or tea. Sweetened drinks add lots of sugar and calories to your diet. This includes fruit juice, soda, sports and energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, and sweetened iced tea.

Things to consider

Balanced nutrition and regular exercise are good for your health. These habits can help you lose or maintain weight. Try to set realistic goals. They could be making some of the small diet changes listed above or walking daily.

Doctors and dietitians suggest making healthy eating habits a part of daily life rather than following fad diets. Nutrition tips and diets from different sources can be misleading. Keep in mind the advice below, and always check with your doctor first.

  • Secret diets aren’t the answer. Fad or short-term diets may promise to help you lose weight fast. However, they are hard to keep up with and could be unhealthy.
  • Good nutrition doesn’t come in a pill. Try eating a variety of foods instead. Your body benefits most from healthy whole foods. Only take vitamins that your doctor prescribes.
  • Diet programs or products can confuse you with their claims. Most people in these ads get paid for their endorsements. They don’t talk about side effects, problems, or regained weight.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How many servings should I eat from each food group?
  • If I’m on a strict diet, such as vegetarian or vegan, how can I improve my health?
  • Are there certain eating habits I should follow for my health condition?

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians, Nutrition: How to Make Healthier Food Choices

U.S. Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate

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