Diet and nutrition: what makes a healthy diet

‘Diet’ is a much abused term, which has come to mean ‘eating less to lose weight’, but the real definition of diet would be the food that you eat every day. Purpose of a healthy diet is to give you nutrition by providing energy, macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in right quantities.

Why does a healthy diet matter so much?

More and more research is pointing out the importance of diet in prevention and good control of risk factors for chronic or lifestyle diseases ; reports suggest that you can avoid getting lifestyle diseases altogether or at least delay their onset by diet and lifestyle management

These lifestyle diseases include:

  • ASCVD or simply CVD (Athero Sclerotic Cardio Vasulcar Diseases), which has complications such as heart attack, brain attack or stroke, gangrene of feet, chronic kidney disease or failure etc.
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Obesity or excess body weight
  • Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals

The diet planning principles for controlling these diseases are more or less the same as those for normal adults and children. Only some additional care is added in people with lifestyle diseases. For example: sugar restriction for diabetes and greater salt and bad fat restriction for people with heart risks.

Thus, the first step to diet analysis and planning should be ensuring the basic principles of nutrition

So, what are the core principles for diet analysis and planning?

The four key considerations given below are the most important in designing a diet for yourself and your family, such that you all avoid the diet related health risks:

1. Maintain dietary calorie balance and healthy body weight

There is no getting away from the fact that one needs to keep one’s calorie intake in line with their daily requirement, so that the body weight can be kept in the healthy range

For people who are overweight, calorie restriction is the most effective way of losing weight, but calorie restriction done by means of unhealthy and extreme habits is harmful; it leads to deranged metabolic risk factors and rebound weight gain in most cases

2. Keep  the intake of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) within healthy ranges

This is an important factor in Indian context, since most Indians eat a heavily carb loaded diet and increasingly are eating more and more of milled/processed carbs (white rice, maida in pizza base/bread etc.) and harmful simple sugars (cola drinks, sugar in tea/coffee etc.). We Indians, get influenced by the focus of the western world on a low fat diet, but ICMR reports indicate that most Indians do not eat a very high fat diet, since we are predominantly vegetarians. Instead, Indians should focus on eating less carbs and healthy carbs

WHO/FAO, USDA and NIN India, have all defined the recommended range for consumption of the macronutrients, so have  dietary guidelines for lifestyle diseases such as  the TLC and DASH diets. The table below summarize these recommendations:

What percentage of total calories/day should come from each macronutrient
For healthy people with normal BMIs For people with existing health risks
Calories from carbohydrates 45-65% 50-60%
Calories from fats 20-35% (WHO range: 20-30%) 20-35% (WHO range: 20-30%)
Calories from proteins 10-25% 15-25%

3. Keep your intake of ‘bad’ nutrients in check

These include:

These bad nutrients are part of some of the most delicious food that we partake, so completely avoiding them is often not possible or advisable, but their intake has to be kept under recommended limits

To get suggestions on how to avoid too much of these nutrients: go to ‘Eat less of bad fats, carbs and salt’

4.Ensure adequate intake of nutrients that:

  • The Indian population in general is deficient in

    • Iron
    • Calcium
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamins of B complex
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin D
  • Have been found to be beneficial in managing life-style diseases and their risk factors

    • Dietary fibers
    • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
    • Magnesium
    • Potassium
    • Phytosterols

To know more about, how to implement this information in planning a healthy diet for your family, check out:

If you are wondering how to use this information in making any changes in your diet, you can get yourself a FWI Ideal Diet Plan, which is designed to help you achieve these ranges


CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet