A healthy diet made up mostly of plant-based foods is essential for preventing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer, as well as preventing weight gain. Healthy eating habits begin in the first years of life, during breastfeeding, which promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development. Implementing a good diet from an early age and maintaining it during adulthood contribute to good health.
To maintain a healthy diet, fat intake should not exceed 30% of total calories, sugars should be reduced to less than 10% and salt consumption to less than 2 grams per day, according to the WHO. An alternative to seasoning food is adding aromatic herbs. To be healthy, a diet must also be balanced and tailored to each person (according to age, sex and life situation), as well as sufficient, varied, appetising and sustainable for the environment.
The Mediterranean diet is the most studied in the last 20-30 years, and has been observed to have the greatest health benefits. It lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels, can help prevent cancer, prevents the formation of blood clots that can cause a stroke and can prevent dementia.
Foods that contribute to a healthy diet are:
- Those of plant origin: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil.
- Those of animal origin: fish, white meat, such as chicken, eggs, dairy products and red meat; although the latter should be consumed less frequently.
A meal should be divided into 3 parts to make it more balanced. The proportion of these 3 parts should be: half for vegetables; a quarter for legumes or whole grains; and a quarter for protein-rich foods, such as fish, eggs or meat. Extra virgin olive oil is the most advisable for dressing, and meals should be finished with seasonal fruit.
Meals should follow a certain frequency and timetable which should, above all, be maintained. Planning a weekly menu for all meals, with a list of ingredients and shopping list is important. This makes it easier to choose the healthiest products and minimise eating cold meats, snacks, pastries, fats such as cream or margarine, soft drinks and sugary juices. Water should replace the latter. As an alternative, infusions can be drunk or flavoured waters prepared. This would be mineral water with added mint, lemon, cucumber or another fruit.
Eating a more plant-based diet is not only beneficial for your health but also for the environment. The EAT-Lancet Commission, a platform to transform eating habits , published a report 3 years ago, based on input from over 30 nutritionists. This document called for a global change in diet, taking into account both health and the environment. It recommended following a mostly vegetable diet, and reducing meat and fish intake. A diet with less ecological impact will reduce the emissions that lead to global warming and help stop a collapse in global biodiversity.