Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Eat a variety of food

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. If everyone gave just $5 we could translate 50 more chapters.

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.


HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 28: Eating well for health > Eat a variety of food


Food vendors outside the factory

Food vendors offer cheap and fast food, and are a very popular meal source for factory workers. Some factories that do not have a meal plan contract vendors to come and offer food inside the factory. Most vendors sell food outside the factory during meal breaks.

Street food is tasty and often fresh, but when vendors do not wash their hands with soap and clean water when preparing, serving, or selling the food, or they do not keep the food at the right temperature and covered, then the food can become contaminated and make you sick. Dishes and utensils that are not washed properly can also spread diseases. When there are no tables or benches, workers have to sit on the ground or curb around the factory entrance.

Vendors are part of the community and supporting their businesses is also a good thing for the community as a whole. If you feel that the vendors are not offering you clean, healthy food, you might organize a meeting with workers and vendors, as well as the factory managers, to find solutions to the problem. For example, the factory owners could allow vendors to use the factory facilities to wash their hands and dishes. You can also suggest that vendors offer healthier food choices.

2 women talking at an outdoor market.
Everything is so expensive.
I can only afford a few fruits and vegetables. But it is cheaper than buying already-made food.

Eat a variety of food

When your body is weak from lack of food, you feel tired all the time and you can get sick more often. When you are hungry and tired, you are also more likely to be injured.

Eat local, fresh foods that have a lot of nutrients. Eating enough food is especially important for pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and anyone with a health problem.
Carbohydrates are the main food that most people eat with each meal, such as rice, maize, wheat, millet, cassava, taro, plantain, breadfruit, bread, or pasta. They give the body energy but need to be combined with other foods to be nutritious. Whole grains and brown rice are more nutritious than processed grains and white rice, and will make you feel fuller for longer.
Proteins are needed for strong muscles, bones, and blood. Protein foods include legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and dairy products. Blood and organ meats like liver, heart, and kidney are nutritious and cost less than other meats, as are eggs, fish, and chicken. Fish is a healthy protein, but if it comes from polluted water, it may contain mercury and other poisons. To be safe, children and pregnant women should avoid eating fatty fish more than once a week.
Vegetables and fruits contain vitamins and minerals to help the body fight infection and keep the eyes, skin, and bones healthy. Fruits and vegetables of different colors have different nutrients, so try to eat different kinds and colors. You can get some nutrients from canned or processed fruit, but processed fruit juices have a lot of sugar and are as bad for you as a soda or cola drink.
Sugars and fats also give the body energy, but you only need a little. Too much sugar or fat causes serious health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. Choose natural sugar and fats: fresh fruit, honey, whole sugar cane, and molasses are all healthy foods that contain sugar. Nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oil, butter, ghee, lard, and fatty meat are foods that contain fats.

Avoid unhealthy foods

a large basket of fruits and vegetables next to a bag of chips and a bottle of cola.
Fruits and vegetables cost about the same as junk food, but junk food harms your health.

Too many foods are available that are unhealthy. Many of them are sold under the pretense that they are actually better for us than natural, local food but that is rarely the case. Local, natural food, the food that our grandparents ate, is better for us than any processed, or junk, food. To be healthy and strong, we not only have to eat healthy, nutritious food, but we must also avoid the unhealthy ones. Unhealthy foods may seem cheaper, but often they cost a lot if you buy enough to fill you up.

Around factories you often find fast-food restaurants selling hamburgers or other processed meats, or stores selling soda pop, packaged candy, or salty snacks. These foods do not contain the vitamins and minerals you can get from eating beans, vegetables, fruits, grains, and unprocessed meats. Processed foods usually contain a lot of chemicals, salt, and sugar to make them taste good and to addict you to them. They cause health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, headaches, and digestive problems. Sugary foods also damage the teeth.

a woman and a man talking as they stand near a cart advertising grilled meats and fried donuts.
You know that this food is not very good for you or your family.
But my wife and I both get home so late that we don’t have time to cook. Besides, my kids really love these donuts.