Question: I need to know how to eat to keep healthy. Are there any guidelines as to the perfect diet?
There are several aspects to eating healthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has given us guidelines that apply to the population as a whole so that policy makers and groups of people can make decisions about their food supply. These have been translated into food based dietary guidelines by countries to suit the characteristics of their population and to make it simple for the layperson to understand. Common statements found in the dietary guidelines for all Caribbean countries include the following:
Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups;
- Eat the amounts of food to attain and maintain a reasonable weight;
- Choose foods and cooking methods low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol;
- Use less sugar, sugary foods and drinks;
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, ground provision, cereals and legumes;
- Eat less meat;
- Use less salt, salty food and seasonings, packaged food such as salty snacks;
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation;
- Drink water several times daily;
- Make physical activity a daily part of your life.
These guidelines are only useful if you can translate them into foods, meals and total dietary intake. You should therefore consult with a registered nutritionist or dietitian to see how your weight and your diet measure up to these standards. In addition, you will need to know if your food intake supplies all the vitamins and minerals and other medicinal substances in food that you need to keep up your resistance to infection and to help reduce your risk to various diseases. The guideline we use for this is the food group system.
If you eat enough variety of foods from all food groups and in a quantity that is right for you, you would be sure to get all the nutrients you need. In the Caribbean, we classify foods into six groups as follows:
Staples: Cereals, grains, breads and provisions/starchy roots, fruits and tubers
Food from Animals: Meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs
Legumes: Dried peas and beans and nuts
Vegetables especially the yellow and dark green leafy ones
Fruits, fresh whole or as fresh juice
Fat and Oils
The perfect diet for you would need to be determined after assessing your physical health, nutritional status as well as all the environmental factors that influence your eating, to ensure that all your needs are met. This can be done face to face. I must emphasize that if you wish a more personalized approach, you must consult qualified nutrition professional.