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Current recommendations concerning healthy nutrition for adults

Nutrition and physical activity are two major lifestyle components that determine human health at any age.

Rational nutrition is the systematic consumption of a variety of foodstuffs as a source of energy and nutrients in quantities and proportions adapted to the individual needs of the body.

The science of nutrition is a flexible and dynamically developing field which responds to all changes related to the quality of products appearing on the market, production technologies, culinary preferences, as well as novelties and dietary trends. These variables, as well as the wide range of food products, may be a source of confusion in making the right choice, and contribute to various nutritional mistakes.

To prevent nutritional errors and at the same time to facilitate the planning and composition of the daily diet, nutritional recommendations have been developed.

Photo of various types of food products. The graphics include, among others: various types of vegetables, nuts, spices, salads.

A healthy eating plate

The current nutritional recommendations developed by the National Institute of Public Health (2020) are graphically presented as a healthy eating plate. This pictorial form, in a clear and comprehensible way, conveys the most important nutritional information one needs to know to stay healthy.

The products recommended in the daily diet include: whole grains, multicoloured vegetables and fruit (with the predominance of vegetables), pulses, fish (especially sea fish), low-fat dairy products (especially fermented, natural), nuts and seeds. However, we should limit salt (5g/day), red meat and its products, sugar, sweets, sweetened drinks and processed products (fast food, salty and sweet snacks).

In addition, to make it easier to change our eating habits, which are not necessarily healthy, recommendations have been developed in the form of 3 steps to health. In a simple and clear way, they encourage us to take up the daily challenge of choosing food products and introduce changes gradually, in small steps.

The nutritional recommendations for the Polish population can be found in Nutrition norms for the Polish population in 2020, edited by M. Jarosz. This publication contains specific requirements with regard to calorie intake and macro and micro elements for a healthy person depending on his or her age, gender, physical activity and physiological condition. However, it should be remembered that the number of meals and their distribution throughout the day is also important in nutrition planning. Adults should eat 4-5 meals a day, with intervals not greater than 4 hours. Main meals, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner, should form the basis of nutrition. It is advisable to have one or two additional meals, namely a second breakfast and/or an afternoon snack. The last meal, dinner, should be consumed about 2 hours before going to bed.

The proportion of energy provided by individual meals is extremely important. In a 5-meal dietary model the first breakfast should provide 25-30% of energy needed for the entire day, the second breakfast 5-10%, lunch 35-40%, the afternoon snack 5-10% and dinner 15-20%. People with a high level of physical activity should also consume healthy snacks (nuts, grains, natural yoghurt, fruit and vegetables) about 2 hours before the main meal.

In addition, meals should be varied in terms of the choice of individual products and cooking techniques. The recommended cooking techniques include boiling, steaming, stewing, baking in parchment or foil and frying without fat. When choosing products and planning meals one should also take into account their organoleptic properties, such as taste, smell, colour and consistency. The dishes should include an interesting and contrasting composition of colours, which will make it possible to obtain an attractive flavour and aroma.

Healthy nutrition models

For a long time now, there has been a lot of talk about the Mediterranean diet as a proven model of nutrition. The general characteristics of this diet correspond to the recommendations, i.e. it is based on vegetables, fish, fruit and whole grains with limited consumption of red meat, dairy, simple sugars and processed foods. A systematic review published in 2021, including 14 randomised trials (studies in which participants are randomly assigned to a drug/intervention or placebo group) with a control group (1930 participants, follow-up time from 4 weeks to 2.3 years), reported improved endothelial (blood vessel epithelium) function in adults indicating the protective effect of this diet at the early stage of arteriosclerosis (vascular atherosclerosis), which may ultimately represent early prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Data on the positive health effects of another dietary model originating in Scandinavian countries (the Nordic diet), based on local produce and rapeseed oil (instead of olive oil), was also published last year. The results indicate improvements in body weight and insulin resistance control.

The recommendations to follow a diet based on moderation and a variety of quality products and maintain regular physical activity adapted to a person’s age and health status, continue to remain valid.

Reference literature:

  1. (access 29 June 2021)
  2. Normy żywienia dla populacji polskiej i ich zastosowanie pod red. M. Jarosz, E. Rychlik, K. Stoś, J. Charzewskiej, PZH, 2020.
  3. Gawęcki J., Żywienie człowieka. Podstawy nauki o żywieniu, PWN, 2017.
  4. Ciborowska H., Rudnicka A., Dietetyka. Żywienie człowieka zdrowego i chorego, PZWL, 2014.
  5. Ramezani-Jolfaie, N., Mohammadi, M., & Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2019). Effects of a healthy Nordic diet on weight loss in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 1-10.
  6. Zimorovat, A., Mohammadi, M., Ramezani-Jolfaie, N., & Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2020). The healthy Nordic diet for blood glucose control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Acta diabetologica, 57(1), 1-12.
  7. Shannon, O. M., Mendes, I., Köchl, C., Mazidi, M., Ashor, A. W., Rubele, S., ... & Siervo, M. (2020). Mediterranean diet increases endothelial function in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The Journal of nutrition, 150(5), 1151-1159.

About the author

Joanna Zając, PhD, has been working as a teacher and researcher at the Department of Hygiene and Dietetics of the Jagiellonian University Medical College for 12 years. She is a member of the Polish Cochrane Branch (an organisation of independent researchers, specialists and patients aiming to develop reliable and accessible information about health) and a co-author of systematic reviews. Her research interests focus on dietetics and the methodology of studies.