UN Food Systems Summit 2021: What does ‘healthy diet’ mean?

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Experts emphasise the importance of eating a healthy and balanced diet. But what does it mean exactly? Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, scheduled to take place in September 2021, to focus on strengthening food systems, promoting healthy diets and improving nutrition, especially for children and young people, let’s revisit how United Nations describes a “healthy diet” in their March 2021 paper ‘Healthy diet: A definition for the United Nations Food Systems Summit’.

According to the paper, healthy diet is health-promoting and disease-preventing. “It provides adequacy without excess, of nutrients and health promoting substances from nutritious foods and avoids the consumption of health-harming substances.”

While conceptually simple, there is “no straightforward, universally accepted approach to classifying individual foods as more or less nutritious”. Similarly, some context specificity is required in the categorisation of individual foods as nutritious. The same food, for example, whole fat milk, may provide much-needed energy and other nutrients to one population group (e.g., underweight 3-year-old children), but be less “healthy” for another due to high energy (calories) and fat content (e.g., obese adults), it noted.


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