A healthy diet helps protect against malnutrition in all its forms and is a foundation for health and development. It also helps to prevent noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and other conditions linked to obesity. Together with a lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet is one of the leading global risks to health.
Evidence shows the benefits of a diet high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains, but lower in salt, free sugars and fats, particularly saturated and trans fats. Developing a healthy diet begins early in life with breastfeeding and educational initiatives for young children and parents. These benefits are reflected in higher educational outcomes, productivity and lifelong health.
However, there are many ways in which a healthy diet can be inaccessible, particularly in low- and middle-income countries and in situations with high rates of food insecurity such as armed conflict. Around the world, an estimated 2 billion people lack access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. The proliferation of highly processed food, rapid unplanned urbanization and changing lifestyles has also contributed to more people eating unhealthy diets high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt.
What constitutes a healthy diet may differ depending on the needs of the individual, locally available foods, dietary customs, cultural norms and other considerations. However, the basic principles of healthy eating remain the same for everyone. The nature of access to food requires broader solutions at the societal level to promote healthy and safe food options.
Broadly speaking, a healthy diet means there should be a balance between energy intake (calories) and energy expenditure. WHO also recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2 grams per day (equivalent to 5 grams of salt), reducing free sugars to less than 10% (ideally 5%) of total energy intake, and shifting fat intake away from industrial trans fats.
As part of efforts to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2016–2025 UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, WHO works with Member States and partners toward the goal of a world free from malnutrition.