Nutrition - Guidelines for a healthy diet

A healthy diet is important to prevent malnutrition and other diet related diseases (1). But the current rise of processed food that are higher in sugar, salt and fat combined with unhealthy eating habits have changed the average nutritional value of our consumed food. Although the solution of changing your diet might seem easy, most people don’t take the time to watch their diet properly or are addicted to certain foods without knowing it. But what is a “proper” diet? In this article we will discuss some basic dietary information, complications related to poor nutrition and some tips to watch your diet.

Basic dietary information

Food consumption is related to social-economic status (WHO, 2020). This results in differences in food accessibility: some people have more access to food (junk-food and healthy food), while some people are not able to afford healthier options. In the current pandemic it might also seem easier to order take-out, instead of going to the supermarket due to the risk of infection and the shortened opening times. The points above make it so that the average person can have many points on which they can improve their diet. 

According to the WHO a healthy diets of an adult consist of:

  • At least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Less than 10% of total energy uptake can be free sugars (ideally below 5%)
  • Less than 30% of total energy uptake from fats (ideally <10%, and <1% for trans-fats)
  • Less than 5g of salt per day

In the Netherlands we have ‘de Schijf van Vijf’ translated as ‘the Wheel of Five’. The Wheel of Five is a scientifically substantiated information model that shows the essence of healthy eating. The Wheel of Five offers an optimal combination of products that provide health benefits and that provide enough energy and all the necessary nutrients. In short, people eat healthy according to the Wheel of Five if they: eat mainly from the Wheel of Five, eat the right amounts every day from each subject, vary and limit choices outside the Wheel of Five (Voedingscentrum, 2016). The Wheel of Five consists of 5 compartments, with different types of products in each compartment: 

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Soft and liquid fats (spreading and cooking fats)
  • Fish, legumes, meat, egg, nuts and dairy
  • Bread, grain products and potatoes
  • Drinks (without sugar)

Diseases due to unhealthy diet

In the long term, poor nutrition has harmful effects and can cause various complications. Overconsumption of sugars and fat can lead to obesity, while salt can lead to vascular diseases. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of having diabetes type 2 compared to those at ‘normal’ weight, because the body will be less able to use the insulin that it makes. 

Two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. Current guidelines recommend consuming less than 2300 mg of sodium a day. Moreover, eating foods low in saturated fats and high fiber, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure.

In addition to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, an unhealthy diet can increase the risk of some cancers. Overweight and obesity are associated with at least 13 types of cancer, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed (CDC, 2021). 

Tips on how to watch your diet

Addiction to food and certain components of food are not new to most people. Stress eating or eating when bored are common ways people over consume. Salt, sugar or fat addiction can occur when higher amounts than usual are consumed repeatedly. The first step of battling a food addiction is awareness. When knowing you are addicted to something it might become easier to lower consumption. Creating a food schedule and watching what you eat also helps a lot in battling overconsumption, which can have negative health benefits. 

Implementing these rules to your daily life can help improve your diet. Together with other factors this can also result in an improvement of your physical & mental health. Watching what you eat is the first step. The next step is to see where you can improve and try to implement this in your daily routine. Cooking more often, less snacking and taking healthier versions of foods you ate before are great ways to get started on improving your diet.

Because the environment (income & prices, preferences, beliefs & traditions and geographic location) can have a big influence on the food you consume. It is important that a healthy environment is promoted by those responsible. When the necessary tools are present it is up to yourself to find a diet that is suited for you. ProFit! is all about helping you out here. We at ProFit! are enthusiastic to help you find ways to improve your diet. With events and tips & tricks we hope to help people on the VU campus improve!

Sources:

CDC. (2021, January). Poor Nutrition. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/nutrition.htm

Voedingscentrum. (2016, June). Achtergronden Schijf van Vijf. https://www.voedingscentrum.nl/encyclopedie/achtergronden-schijf-van-vijf.aspx

World Health Organization. (2020, April). Healthy diet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet