Defining a Healthy Diet: Evidence for The Role of Contemporary Dietary Patterns in Health and Disease

Nutrients. 2020 Jan 27;12(2):334. doi: 10.3390/nu12020334.


The definition of what constitutes a healthy diet is continually shifting to reflect the evolving understanding of the roles that different foods, essential nutrients, and other food components play in health and disease. A large and growing body of evidence supports that intake of certain types of nutrients, specific food groups, or overarching dietary patterns positively influences health and promotes the prevention of common non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Greater consumption of health-promoting foods and limited intake of unhealthier options are intrinsic to the eating habits of certain regional diets such as the Mediterranean diet or have been constructed as part of dietary patterns designed to reduce disease risk, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diets. In comparison with a more traditional Western diet, these healthier alternatives are higher in plant-based foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts and lower in animal-based foods, particularly fatty and processed meats. To better understand the current concept of a "healthy diet," this review describes the features and supporting clinical and epidemiologic data for diets that have been shown to prevent disease and/or positively influence health. In total, evidence from epidemiological studies and clinical trials indicates that these types of dietary patterns reduce risks of NCDs including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Keywords: healthy dietary patterns; macronutrients; micronutrients; non-communicable diseases; non-essential nutrients; plant-based diets.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans

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