Individual dietary patterns are influenced over time by a variety of social and economic factors that interact closely. They include likings and beliefs, cultural traditions, regional and environmental conditions, income, cost of food – which will affect accessibility and affordability of healthy foods, and food availability. Nowadays, people eat more meals that are high in calories, fats, free sugars, and salt, and many people eat insufficient portions of fruit, vegetables, and other dietary fiber-rich foods, like whole grains.
Therefore, promoting a healthy food environment that includes a varied, balanced, and healthy diet, requires the involvement of multiple sectors, the public and private sectors. The government has key responsibility to create an environment where individuals can develop and maintain healthy eating habits. To improve individual dietary habits and living standards, one should stick to the Pakistan Dietary Guidelines for Better Nutrition (PDGN), published by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
‘Govt has responsibility to create an environment where individuals can maintain healthy eating habits’
These guidelines are recommendations based on the scientific knowledge related to nutritional requirements, food consumption patterns, and nutrient intake of the population. These guidelines are developed taking into account the country’s food and nutrition situation and the role of diet in health and disease. It provide a list of foods with portion sizes to help the general population make smart and healthy food choices for a healthy, long, and active life.
It aims to improve the nutritional status of the population by ensuring that sufficient amounts of nutrients are provided to the body through good food choices and the adoption of healthy lifestyles and behavioral practices. The guidelines also encourages the ‘my plate’ concept to reinforce that the diet must contain all food groups to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the body. Based on quality and characteristics, foods are divided into six groups:
1) Cereal group is essential for providing carbohydrates, protein, vitamin B1, vitamin E, and minerals. It is the main staple providing over 50% of energy. 2) Meat and pulses group includes mutton, beef, poultry, fish, liver, eggs, and pulses which are rich sources of proteins and minerals. 3) Dairy group includes milk and milk products essential for skeletal growth and development, and muscular functions. It is a rich source of calcium, phosphorous, protein, lactose, energy, and vitamins.
4) Vegetables are essential for providing antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that protect the body against chronic diseases. Increased consumption of vegetables is recommended to meet the nutritional requirements and maintain desirable body weight. 5) Fruits are essential not only for providing vitamins and minerals but also for supplying dietary fiber for optimal growth and development. 6) Fats and oils are included in the plate. Fat, oil, salt, and sugar may be used moderately to reduce the risk of being overweight and obese, and developing hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.
General guidelines include; limit consumption of edible oil and fat in cooking; reduce sugar intake, and limit intake of soft drinks, confectionaries, bakery products, and commercial fruit drinks; limit salt in cooking and always use iodized salt; limit consumption of fatty foods and highly processed foods; change a sedentary lifestyle to a physically active lifestyle; drink plenty of water each day; and read nutrition labeling on packaged food products.