Eating well for the whole family

Eating well is vital for a healthy and active life. Most people know that we need to eat in order to have the strength to work. However, to many people, it is not clear what it means to eat well within their circumstances.

Poverty is a major cause of the nutritional problems found in developing countries, but malnutrition also exists where people are not poor and where they can get enough to eat. In fact, there are two – quite opposite – main types of malnutrition. The first type is the result of not eating enough good-quality and safe foods. The second type is caused by overeating in general, or overeating certain types of food. Both can be prevented by a healthy, balanced diet.

Eating well comes down to putting the right nutrients into our bodies through the foods we eat. Combining the right foods is key, as different foods contain different levels of nutrients. The amounts of nutrients a person needs varies with age, sex, activity, and other factors, but generally  everyone needs:

Macro (big) nutrients that we need in large amounts. These are:

  • carbohydrates (starches, sugars and dietary fibre);
  • fats - there are several kinds;
  • proteins - there are hundreds of different proteins.

Micro (small) nutrients that we need in small amounts. There are many of these, but the ones most likely to be lacking in the diet are:

  • minerals – iron, iodine and zinc;
  • vitamins – vitamin A, B-group vitamins (including folate) and vitamin C.

Pulses are valuable sources of dietary fibre, proteins, B-vitamins and minerals like iron. All members of the family should incorporate pulses into their diets for many reasons.

  • Girls and women need to eat well throughout their lives, but particularly when they are planning a baby, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Iron-rich foods are especially important during this time, and during adolescence. Meat, offal, poultry and fish are the best sources of iron, but pulses are a good secondary option.*
  • Children over 6 months of age can begin complementary feeding, which means giving other foods in addition to breastmilk. Flours made from pulses (e.g. pigeon pea flour) can be added to porridge to make it more nutrient-rich.
  • Children of school age and youths also need to eat healthy, balanced diets. While cereals and starchy roots provide energy, pulses and legumes will help children grow.
  • Older people need less food but they still need good quality food, especially foods like pulses that repair the body, protect against illness and keep them in good health.

Learn more about nutrition needs for the whole family in FAO’s The Family Nutrition Guide.


*The iron from animal source foods is better used by the body than the iron obtained from pulses. To improve the iron available from pulses, it is advised to combine them with sources of vitamin C, like citrus fruits.