According to the World Health Organization-WHO, a healthy diet helps to protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
WHO states that an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are leading global risks to health.
Emmy Ntamanga, a Kigali-based nutrition consultant, says that for the human body to function well, it needs nutrient-rich food to maintain an optimal health.
Family Doctor (a trusted medical platform from the American Academy of Family Physicians) states that you should choose a diet made of nutrient-rich foods. Nutrient-rich (or nutrient-dense) foods are low in sugar, sodium, starches, and bad fats. They contain a lot of vitamins and minerals and few calories. Your body needs vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients. They nourish your body and help keep you healthy. They can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Getting them through food ensures your body can absorb them properly.
Ntamanga explains that nutrient-rich food for a healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, whole grains, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Fruits and vegetables, especially orange and dark green in colour, are low in fat and they add nutrients, flavour and variety to your diet. It is, however, recommended to look for colourful fruits and vegetables, he says.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that selecting nutrient-rich foods and beverages first is a way to make better choices within your daily eating plan.
Choose first among the basic food groups; for example, brightly coloured fruits and 100-per cent fruit juice, vibrantly coloured vegetables including potatoes, whole-grain, fortified and fibre-rich grain foods low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yoghurt or fortified plant-based alternatives, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, soy foods such as tofu and tempeh, beans, lentils and nuts.
Ntamanga notes that meat, especially lean meat, poultry, fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and iodine and beans are good sources of proteins.
He adds that dairy products such as whole milk and low fat milk which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and quality animal proteins, and healthy fats are also good sources of calcium.
The nutrition consultant says that nuts and seeds help in weight loss and contain magnesium and vitamin C.
“Spend a few minutes washing and cutting vegetables so they are in easy reach for every family member — these include ready-to-eat favourites such as red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, cucumbers, snap peas, among others. Keep cut vegetables handy for mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner,” states The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Ntamanga says that grains like brown rice are rich in fibre, vitamin B1 and magnesium, and others which provide numerous benefits, adding that legumes are a great plant-based source of protein.
“One of the most nutritious root vegetables you can eat are sweet potatoes as they are rich in heart-healthy potassium and vision-boosting vitamin A, fat and are cholesterol-free. Sweet potatoes also have a rich, sugary flavour while low in calories,” states WebMD.
WebMD also quotes that mushrooms add flavour to food, they are also low in calories and an excellent source of the cancer-fighting mineral, selenium. Additionally, these humble plants are the highest vegetarian source of vitamin D and they are high in copper and potassium, nutrients needed for normal heart rhythm, nerve function, and red blood cell production.
In addition, mushrooms cook in a flash and pair well with vegetarian, vegan, or meaty meals. Slice them onto sandwiches or into salads, or put them in any recipe that could use a more tasteful texture.
Creamy, thick, and smooth yoghurt is also known to be a great source of potassium, protein, and calcium. It is also a good source of natural probiotics to improve digestion. The nutrients present in yoghurt help build strong bones and keep the immune system stronger.
Ntamanga says that eggs are a great source of natural protein and contain all eight amino acids required for the body. If you have eggs daily for breakfast, then you will stay full longer and get enough energy to work all day long. He adds that a varied and balanced diet contains enough plant-based foods and limits processed foods.