Healthy diet: Keys to eating well

1. What is a healthy diet for breastfeeding babies and young children?

From birth to 6 months of age, feed babies exclusively with breast milk (i.e. give them no other food or drink) and feed them on demand (i.e. as often as they want, day and night).

At 6 months of age, introduce a variety of safe and nutritious foods to complement breastfeeding, and continue to breastfeed until babies are 2 years of age or beyond.

Do not add salt or sugars to foods for babies and young children.

2. Why should babies be breastfed exclusively?

On its own, breast milk provides all the nutrients and fluids that babies need for their first 6 months of healthy growth and development. Exclusively breastfed babies have better resistance against common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections and ear infections. In later life, those who were breastfed as infants are less likely to become overweight or obese or to suffer from non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

3. Why is it important to eat a variety of foods?

Eating a variety of whole (i.e. unprocessed) and fresh foods every day helps children and adults to obtain the right amounts of essential nutrients. It also helps them to avoid a diet that is high in sugars, fats and salt, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain (i.e. overweight and obesity) and non-communicable diseases. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is especially important for young children's development. It also helps older people to have healthier and more active lives.

WHO recommends that people eat a combination of different foods, including staple foods (e.g. cereals such as wheat, barley, rye, maize or rice, or starchy tubers or roots such as potato, yam, taro or cassava), legumes (e.g. lentils, beans), vegetables, fruit and foods from animals sources (e.g. meat, fish, eggs and milk).

4. What are the benefits of eating plenty of vegetables and fruit?

WHO recommends that people eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. For snacks, choose raw vegetables and fresh fruit, rather than foods that are high in sugars, fats or salt.

Avoid overcooking vegetables and fruit as this can lead to the loss of important vitamins. When using canned or dried vegetables and fruit, choose varieties without added salt and sugars

Vegetables and fruit are important sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, plant protein and antioxidants. People whose diets are rich in vegetables and fruit have a significantly lower risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.