Poor diet a bigger killer than smoking and accounts for more than a fifth of deaths worldwideTim Dune
Poor diet a bigger killer than smoking and accounts for more than a fifth of deaths worldwide
Research suggests disability caused by poor eating habits puts a huge strain on society.
Poor diet accounts for more than a fifth of deaths worldwide.
Poor eating habits are a bigger killer than smoking and each year accounts for around 11 million deaths worldwide, or 22% of the total recorded.
Smoking tobacco was associated with eight million deaths.
The vast majority of diet-related deaths were due to heart disease, followed by cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
Analysis of data published in The Lancet medical journal showed that low intake of whole grains and fruits, and high consumption of sodium – found in salt – accounted for more than half of diet-related deaths.
The rest were attributed to high consumption of red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and other unhealthy foods including those containing trans-fatty acids.
The research also highlighted the huge burden that disabilities caused by poor diets placed on society.
Lead scientist Dr Ashkan Afshin, from the University of Washington, said: “Poor diet is an equal-opportunity killer.
“We are what we eat and risks affect people across a range of demographics, including age, gender, and economic status.”
He added: “We are highlighting the importance of low consumption of healthy foods as compared to the greater consumption of unhealthy foods.
“Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said “more must be done to reduce the burden of diet-related disease”.
She said the UK’s challenge to the food industry to reduce sugar from everyday foods was “a clear step in the right direction”.
The study found that poor diets had a lack of whole grains including oatmeal and buckwheat.
What should we be eating?
The study found that the diets most closely linked to death had a significant lack of whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and omega-3 fatty acids.
Each of these factors accounted for more than 2% of all deaths globally.
Professor Walter Willett, co-author of the study, suggested replacing meat with plant protein.
He said: “Adoption of diets emphasising soy foods, beans and other healthy plant sources of protein will have important benefits for both human and planetary health”.
Nuts should also be eaten daily as another source of plant-protein and healthy fats.
Beans are a great source of plant-based protein.
Eat more of:
- Whole grains – brown rice, oatmeal, millet, buckwheat, whole-wheat bread and pasta
- Fruit and vegetables – particularly berries, dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Beans – tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans for plant-based protein
- Nuts – Almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts – keep it varied!
- Omega-3’s – Oily fish like salmon and mackerel or flaxseed, hemp seeds or an algae-based DHA supplement
The highly important omega-3 fatty acids – essential nutrients for brain function and preventing heart disease – can be found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish including salmon.
Vegans can find omega-3’s in certain nuts and seeds including flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts, and can also take an algae-based DHA supplement to meet their omega-3 requirements.
Dr Anna Diaz Font, from the World Cancer Resarch Fund, said the study’s findings are important because they demonstrate the major role that diet plays in the health of individuals and populations.
Ground flaxseed is a good source of plant-based omega-3’s.
“Our own research shows that having a poor diet increases the risk of cancer and obesity – further increasing the risk of 12 different types of cancer.
“We call on governments to implement evidence-informed policies that encourage people to make healthier choices by making the healthy option easiest.”
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