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Healthy Diet, Healthy Life

One should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and aim for at least five servings daily.


It is undeniable that what we eat can significantly affect our state of well-being, but what foods are good for our health, and how much should we eat them daily? These are still debatable among nutritionists, and their opinions change over time. This article, therefore, summarizes the current, general diet recommendation you can follow for a healthy life.

Fruits and vegetables
Increased fruit and vegetable intake can lower the risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and premature death. They are high in fiber and antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene. People should consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Recommended daily fiber intakes are at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are acceptable substitutes for hard-to-get fresh produce. Fiber can prevent type 2 diabetes and decrease the risk of developing colon cancer and coronary heart disease. Soluble fiber can help with blood sugar control in patients with diabetes. Taking antioxidant vitamin supplements is not beneficial unless prescribed by a doctor to those with vitamin deficiencies. There is no evidence that antioxidant vitamins can prevent cancer.

Whole grains
Refined carbohydrates in white rice, white bread, and sweets can increase the risk of coronary heart disease as it increases blood triglycerides and lowers your high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Try to cut down the refined carbohydrate and added sugars and opt for whole grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat bread instead. Regularly eating whole grain foods can help with weight loss and decrease the risk of developing diabetes.

Folate, a type of vitamin B, is essential for red blood cell production and necessary for pregnant women. Inadequate folate can cause neural tube defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida in the fetus. Pregnant women should take folate-containing multivitamins to prevent those harmful effects.

Calcium and vitamin D
Adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D can lower the risk of weakened and brittle bones or osteoporosis. Daily calcium intake is 1000 mg for premenopausal women and men and 1200 mg for postmenopausal women. However, the consumption of calcium should not exceed 2000 mg per day. Generally, 15 micrograms of vitamin D are adequate for adults, but for adults over 70 and postmenopausal women, the proper amount is 20 micrograms.

Red meat
Processed meats such as bacon, ham, pepperoni, and salami can harm your health and increases the risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

The amount of fats seems less critical than the type of fats consumed. There are four types of fats consisting of:

  • Saturated fats found in meat and dairy products can increase your cholesterol level, but newer evidence does not corroborate the increased risk of coronary heart disease. Saturated fat increases HDL and LDL of the large, buoyant type, which do not increase the risk of coronary heart disease, while HDL is protective.
  • Trans-fats are present in margarine or cooking seed oils exposed to high temperatures for a long time during frying. It may list as partially hydrogenated oils on food labeling. There is consensus among researchers that it is the most harmful fat. The EU and the United States have banned them from being used in food products.
  • Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, are viewed as healthy. According to new studies, it does not significantly decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Polyunsaturated fats can be found in marine fish, corn oil, flax seeds, and walnuts. There are two major classes, namely:
    • Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are abundant in oily marine fishes. Walnuts, and flax seeds, are sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acids), a plant-derived omega-3 fat. They are anti-inflammatory fats.
    • Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory fats. They are plentiful in refined seed oils such as soybean, corn, sunflower oils, etc., and should be consumed sparingly.

Refined polyunsaturated fats have many double bonds in their molecules; they are reactive, unstable, and can be readily oxidized and turn rancid. Under high heat cooking conditions, they break down into toxic aldehydes, cyclic peroxides, and reactive oxygen species that cause significant damage to the cellular components.

Regularly consuming healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fats while avoiding omega-6 and trans fats decrease coronary heart disease risk.

Though the risk of heart disease is lower with moderate alcohol consumption (1 glass per day for women and 2-glass per day for men), one should avoid regularly drinking alcohol. The risk of developing alcoholism, cirrhosis, or cancers such as breast cancer in women, mouth and throat cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer increase with drinking. The risks of alcohol consumption outweigh the benefits.

How many calories each person requires depends on the age, gender, weight, and level of physical activities. Eating too many calories from the wrong food source than your body needs can cause weight gain and obesity, leading to increased risks of developing diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and premature death.

One should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and aim for at least five servings daily. To achieve this, you can:

  • Add various seasonal fruits and vegetables to every meal.
  • Prepare fruits and vegetables as snacks for you and your children.
  • Replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains.

Eat healthier monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and avoid unhealthy trans and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats by:

  • Eat white meat such as fish or chicken instead of red meat. 
  • Use olive oil, coconut oil, and animal-derived fats containing monounsaturated fats and saturated fats that have a neutral effect on cardiovascular risks, based on modern-day evidence.
  • Avoid margarine with partially hydrogenated oils. 
  • Choose “zero trans fats” foods if at all possible. 
  • Cut down on bakeries such as cakes, cookies, or cupcakes.

Refrain from drinking alcohol and sugar-sweetened drinks. 

  • Avoid drinking sugar-sweetened or alcoholic beverages at meals or parties.
  • Do not serve sugar-sweetened or alcoholic drinks as a must-have item during a family gathering or event.

Siri-Tarino P, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.
Dehghan M, et al.  Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet, 2017
Hooper L, et al. Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Systematic Review, 2020.
Gribbin S, et al. Association of carbohydrate and saturated fat intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in Australian women. Heart, 2021.
Gaeini Z, et al. The association between dietary fats and the incidence risk of cardiovascular outcomes: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2021.

Published: 08 Aug 2022