Most are aware that balanced diets and physical exercise are of utmost importance for optimal health, and the lack of either can cause and worsen chronic diseases.

According to WHO and FAO, the past decade has seen a rapid shift in diets and lifestyles, often due to industrialisation, urbanisation, socio-economic changes, and of course, globalisation. While being mostly beneficial, allowing for better living standards and access to food and other vitals, they have also led to creation of new health issues.

Poor dietary patterns, low physical activity and increased use of tobacco has led chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancers, and cardiovascular ailments to escalate. However, most of these health issues can be prevented or addressed with lifestyle changes.

Nutrition to offset chronic diseases

Human beings need a balanced intake of seven types of nutrients viz carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and water. Nutrients can either be essential –those the body cannot create by itself, or at least not as much as needed– or non-essential. A balanced eating plan supplements the body with the essential nutrients like vitamins, fatty acids, electrolytes, amino acids, and minerals.

Food guidelines made simple

Ensuring generous portions of fruits and vegetables are essential to fulfil the vitamin and mineral requirements, which will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and help maintain optimal blood pressure levels. Lean protein and plant-based protein are essential to maintain the body structure and for cell repair. Beans, legumes, lentils, nuts are a great source for fibre, selenium, vitamin E and A, to help reduce cholesterol and keep the heart healthy. Interchanging saturated fats and trans-fat (fast food) with unsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids will help reduce cholesterol levels. Consuming fish in abundance, cooking in oils such as sunflower, mustard oil, rice bran and including omega-3 seeds like flax seed, chia, and sunflower in the daily intake are essential.

Consuming grains in a whole-grain form yields loads of high fibre, which has been linked to lower risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease. The fibre and vitamins from wholegrains are much higher than that of just simple carbs and facilitates weight control and prevents constipation.

Limiting consumption of refined sugar and sugar-based beverages is advised, as they have no nutritional value. They are high on the glycaemic index and contribute to the risk of diabetes and metabolic effects.

High amount of sodium from salt, soya sauce, and processed food has an adverse effect on blood pressure, which is a major cause of strokes and coronary disease, and thus advised against. The WHO suggested an upper limit of 1.7 grams of sodium per day which is 5 grams of salt for the whole day’s intake.

Physical activity to offset chronic diseases

Regular exercise can reduce or delay chronic illnesses, improving quality of life. Physical activity has great influence on the body’s composition such as fat, muscle, and bone tissue. Studies show cardiovascular fitness, obesity, and physical activity to be interlinked. Benefits of light to moderate physical activity can include healthier BMI and reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, and colon cancer.

How much is good enough

To maintain weight, generally, dailywalk of 30-40 minutes, or 75 minutes of intense cardio 2-3 times a week can help.

To lose weight however, high levels of daily physical activity, diet and lifestyle adjustments are crucial. A minimum of 300 calories burn out in exercise sessions and a healthy food plan of 1200-1400 calories a day is essential for weight loss in a sustainable manner.

Maintaining a healthy BMI

According to ACSM standards, 16-19 percent body fat is ideal for women, and 11-13 percent for men. Obesity in humans can result in glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, depression etc.

Diets low in trans-fat, refined sugar and simple carbs, and high in fibre and minerals from wholegrains, vegetables, and fruits can help maintain a balanced BMI. Sweet juices, sodas, artificially sweetened spreads, fatty food like mayo, processed food like sausages, nuggets, fried food and high caloric food should be avoided.

The immunity connection

The immune system is often overlooked, even though studies show that both physical activity and nutrition play a vital role in boosting it, in contrast to sedentary lifestyles, which have been classified by WHO as a leading risk factor for global mortality.

More specifically, immunity boosting food includes green leafy vegetables, probiotics, citrus fruits, garlic, nuts, lean protein, and omega-3 fatty food. Also, enough and proper sleep, and balanced water intake, are absolutely crucial as well.