Nutrition: What Is It and Why Is It Important
Malnutrition is a complex problem to solve but, as levels of undernutrition and obesity rise, something must be done.
– Dr. Francesco Branca, leading food health expert, WHO.
What is Nutrition and the Importance of Nutrition?
Nutrition, aliment, or nourishment is the supply of materials – food – required by organisms to stay alive. Our food choices affect our health and this is why they say — we are what we eat.
Good nutrition forms an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activities, our diet can help us maintain a healthy weight, reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases and promoting our overall health.
What is the Impact of Nutrition on Your Health?
Millions of people are suffering from different forms of malnutrition. According to WHO, currently, in India, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese while 462 million are underweight. Among children, 52 million under-fives are suffering from wasting, where they have a low weight for height.
As mentioned earlier, nutrition is a critical part of our health and development. Malnutrition, in any form, poses threats to human health. Today the world faces a double burden of malnutrition that includes both undernutrition and overweight, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Better nutrition is directly related to improved maternal, infant, and child health, better immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, reduced risks of non-communicable diseases (like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), and enhanced longevity. Healthier children learn better. Individuals who get adequate nutrition are usually more productive.
Thus, the link between good nutrition and healthy weight, lowered risk of chronic diseases, and overall health are too important to ignore. By taking steps to eat healthily, you’ll be ensuring that you have access to the nutrients your body needs to stay active, healthy, and strong. As with physical activities, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, and it is easier than you think!
How Can I Eat a Healthy Diet?
The easiest way to follow a healthy diet is to eat a balanced diet that fulfils all of a person’s nutritional needs. Humans require a certain amount of nutrients and calories to stay healthy. A balanced diet provides the nutrients an individual requires without crossing the recommended daily calorie count. A nutrition food chart is a visual guide that displays the recommended daily intake of essential nutrients and helps individuals make informed choices about their diet. According to WHO, the following are the keys to a healthy diet:
Eat a Variety of Foods
Eating a variety of whole, unprocessed, and fresh food every day helps both children and adults to obtain the right amounts of essential nutrients. It also helps them avoid a diet that is high in sugars, fats, and salt which can lead to unhealthy weight gain (i.e. overweight and obesity) and acquiring non-communicable diseases.
Eat a combination of different foods, including staple foods like cereals, such as barley, wheat, rye, or rice, or starchy tubers and roots such as potato, legumes like beans and lentils, vegetables, fruits, and food from animal sources like egg, meat, fish, and milk.
Include Plenty of Vegetables and Fruits in Your Diet
Fruits and vegetables are essential sources of vitamins, dietary fibres, minerals, plant protein, and antioxidants. People who follow a diet rich in vegetables and fruits are at a significantly lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
- Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits
- Opt for raw vegetables and fresh fruits when snacking, rather than foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt
- Avoid overcooking vegetables and fruits as this leads to the loss of essential vitamins
- When buying dried or canned fruits and vegetables, go for varieties without added sugar and salt
Consume Moderate Amounts of Fats and Oils
Fats and oils are concentrated sources of energy. Consuming too much fat, especially the wrong kind of fat, will turn out to be harmful to health. For instance, people on a diet that comprise saturated fat and trans-fat are at greater risk of suffering from heart diseases.
- Use unsaturated vegetable oils, such as olive, corn, sunflower, or soy oil, in place of animals fats or oils high in saturated fats like ghee, lard, palm, and coconut oil
- Choose white meat (e.g. poultry) and fish, which are low in fats, over red meat
- Limit the intake of processed meats as these are high in salt and fat
- Whenever possible, choose low-fat or reduced-fat versions of dairy and milk products
- Avoid baked, processed, and fried foods that contain industrially produced trans-fat
Reduce the Intake of Salt and Sugar
People whose diets are high in sodium, including salt are at a greater risk of getting high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart diseases and strokes. Similarly, those on a high-sugar diet have a greater risk of becoming obese or overweight, and a risk of tooth decay. People who reduce the amount of sugar reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases like heart diseases and strokes.
- For a healthy diet, sugar should ideally represent less than 10% of total energy consumption. Reducing further to about 5% will result in additional health benefits
- Choosing fresh fruits instead of sweet snacks like cakes, cookies, and chocolates may help reduce sugar consumption
- Limiting the consumption of soda, soft drinks, and other drinks high in sugar also helps reduce sugar intake
How Can I Make Healthy Choices When Shopping for Food?
You must thoroughly go through the Nutrition Facts Food Label on canned, frozen, and packaged food items. This label:
- Lists the items that by law need to be listed on food products
- Shows what a serving size of a food is, and how many calories and fat grams are in a serving, as well as how many calories of the food come from fat
- Tells some important vitamins and minerals that the food provides