Here’s some new data about how our usual dietary intake can improve both our everyday health and the more positive feeling we have then – a part of “sustainable living” – as well increased longevity.
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Bad diets killing more people globally than tobacco, study finds
Eating and drinking better could prevent
one in five early deaths, researchers say.
Sarah Boseley Health editor
3 Apr 2019
Unhealthy diets are responsible for 11m preventable deaths globally per year, more even than smoking tobacco, according to a major study.
But the biggest problem is not the junk we eat but the nutritious food we don’t eat, say researchers, calling for a global shift in policy to promote vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes.
While sugar and trans-fats are harmful, more deaths are caused by the absence of healthy foods in our diet, the study found.
The research is part of the Global Burden of Disease study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, published in the Lancet medical journal.
Heart attacks and strokes are the main diet-related causes of death, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes, say researchers.
The study found that eating and drinking better could prevent one in five deaths around the world. Although diets vary from one country to another, eating too few fruits and vegetables and too much sodium (salt) accounted for half of all deaths and two-thirds of the years of disability attributable to diet. They write …
“Our findings show that suboptimal diet
is responsible for more deaths than any
other risks globally, including tobacco
smoking, highlighting the urgent need
for improving human diet across nations.”
Rather than trying to persuade people to cut down on sugar, salt and fat, which has been “the main focus of diet policy debate in the past two decades”, it would be better to promote healthy options, they say.
Dr Ashkan Afshin of the IHME, the lead author, said …
“Generally in real life people do
substitution. When they increase
the consumption of something,
they decrease the consumption
of other things.”
Countries that have a mainly Mediterranean diet eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, said Afshin, naming Lebanon, Israel and Iran among the better performers.
“But no country has an optimal level
of consumption of all the health foods.
Even in countries that have a Mediter-
ranean diet, the current intake of many
other dietary factors is not optimal.”
The paper is the most comprehensive analysis on the health effects of diet ever conducted, says the IHME.
It looked at 15 different nutrients – some good for health and some not so good. The main risk factors were eating too much salt and too few whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids from seafood. Other risk factors considered were consuming high levels of red and processed meat and sugary drinks, low milk consumption and low fibre.
Poor diets were responsible for 10.9m deaths, or 22% of all deaths among adults in 2017. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause, followed by cancers and diabetes. Nearly half – 45% – were in people younger than 70.
Tobacco was associated with 8m deaths, and high blood pressure was linked to 10.4m deaths.
Israel had the lowest rate of diet-related deaths, at 89 per 100,000 people, followed by France, Spain and Japan. The UK ranked 23rd, with 127 diet-related deaths per 100,000 and the US was 43rd with 171. Uzbekistan was last, with 892.
Prof Walter Willett from Harvard University, a co-author of the study, said that the findings were consistent with a recently published analysis of the benefits for cardiovascular health of replacing red meat with plant sources of protein. He said …
“Adoption of diets emphasising soy
foods, beans and other healthy plant
sources of protein will have important be-
nefits for both human and planetary health.”
Tom Sanders, a professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said the analysis put too much emphasis on individual components rather than the overall diet.
“Obesity is a major driver for risk of type 2
diabetes as well as cancer, and the health
evidence for this relationship is strong.
Obesity is caused by eating more food
energy than required rather than specific
dietary components such as sugar.
“The trend for populations to become
increasingly sedentary is a major reason
why there is an imbalance between
energy intake and expenditure but
increased availability of foods with a
high energy density (more calories/
gram) makes it too easy to overeat.”
Dr Christopher Murray, a director of the IHME and one of the authors, said:
“This study affirms what many have
thought for several years – that poor
diet is responsible for more deaths than
any other risk factor in the world.
“While sodium, sugar, and fat have been the
focus of policy debates over the past two
decades, our assessment suggests the leading
dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium,
or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole
grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegetables.
“The paper also highlights the need for com-
prehensive interventions to promote the pro-
duction, distribution, and consumption
of healthy foods across all nations.”
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The Mediterranean diet is your best method of eating. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables are needed for a healthy body. Too few people eat enough vegetables to make a body function well.
Vegetables grown in home gardens provide the joy of eating right from the garden. They also teach children where their food comes from. It also provides in-season produce. It is also delightful to experience Farmers’ Markets, which helps keep produce local and helps sustainability by not having produce travel great distances … during which it loses nutrients.
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One general comment …
Some blogs mention products, or at least generically so. If you have concerns about any of them, please go ahead and check them out. For example, one reader expressed concern about seaweed straws, suggesting that if the oceans are polluted why would we want to put a straw made up of polluted material in our mouths? My assumption was that the straws would have to pass appropriate sanitation regulations to satisfy a health code. But …
That’s my assumption.
And I make assumptions about electric cars, batteries, landscapes that clean the air, etc. My assumptions are based on the reports I find. You likely make assumptions based on the best data you find, as well. But our assumptions are not necessarily “perfect.” If you, as a reader, have questions about any of my assumptions, please explore your questions yourself – and then share what you find with me. We can both learn.