The news that eating well can help us live longer, healthier lives is not necessarily new. A recent study, however, helps to show just how important what we eat is. According to this study, poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor across the world. Yes, even more than smoking. What if 1 in 5 deaths could be prevented by eating better? It might just be possible.
What did they study?
The results of the Global Burden of Disease study were published recently and looked to answer the question of which foods and nutrients have the biggest impact on our health. They looked at the impact of 15 different dietary risk factors across 195 countries. Each of these factors was evaluated for their impact on two measures, death and DALYs, which measure the loss of “healthy” years of life due to illness.
What did they find?
In 2017, 11 million deaths and 255 million DALYs were connected to dietary risk factors. Three factors (too much sodium, not enough whole grains and not enough fruit) accounted for 50% of deaths connected to diet. The researchers estimate that 1 in 5 deaths globally could be prevented with improvements in the way we eat.
Which foods should we focus on?
In the past, the focus of improving eating habits has been on what to cut out or eat less of. Interestingly, this study finds that we may be better off focusing on which foods to eat more of. Of the top six factors, five were areas where the risk is in not getting enough of an important food or nutrient. To make sure you are supporting your health, focus on getting enough whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, nuts and seeds and plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean and canola. Getting too much sodium is also a top factor, so reading labels and limiting salty foods is a good strategy, too.
1. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Published Online April 3, 2019 https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(19)30041-8.