It may seem obvious that eating a heap of ‘junk’ or heavily processed foods over the whole, fresh stuff isn’t going to bode well for health. But, according to a new study, the big issue isn’t necessarily too much junk food, but that we aren’t eating enough of the good stuff!
In a study published by Tufts University, of the 702,308 U.S. adult deaths due to cardiometabolic diseases in 2012, 45% were related to a poor diet.1
What do these study authors believe constitutes a poor diet? Basically, a lack of foods and nutrients considered health supportive, and too much of the foods that are not.
Eating this way, the study authors found, was correlated with death due to cardiometabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
The study incorporated data from several U.S. sources including The National Health Survey, the Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Center for Health Statistics, to ascertain dietary intake, and number and causes of death by certain disease, as well as studies that link diet and disease.
Consuming too many salt-laden foods, processed meats, and you guessed it, sugar-sweetened beverages, were associated with cardiometabolic deaths. And not enough of certain beneficial foods and nutrients including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy fats were seen to be just as much as a risk factor.
In Australia, according to the most recent nation-wide dietary survey, we too are not getting enough vegetable or fruit. In fact, only half eat the recommended amount of fruit, and only 7% eat enough of their peas, carrots and greens!2
In addition, the researchers correlated a greater number of cardiometabolic deaths in younger people over older; men over women, and lower education level over higher education level.
Just eat real food
The study, like most, comes with its limitations, including the use of observational studies that cannot prove cause and effect. Analysing the connection between diet and health outcomes for a population is difficult!
And isolating nutrients or a certain type of food without consideration of the context in which they are eaten can be unhelpful – what, when, and how we eat can all impact cardiometabolic and overall health.
So, what should we do? Considering the correlations this study found, and factors common to a variety of purported ‘healthful’ dietary patterns such as vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, Palaeolithic, Mediterranean and others, most agree it is best to limit intake of refined starch, added sugar and processed stuff, and just eat real food.3
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
Micha, R Peñalvo, JL Cudhea, F Imamura, F Rehm, CD Mozaffarian, D 2017, ‘Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States’ JAMA, vol. 317, no. 9, pp. 912-924.
ABS 2016, National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15, viewed 9 March 2017, <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2014-15~Main%20Features~Daily%20intake%20of%20fruit%20and%20vegetables~28>
Katz, DL, & Meller, S 2014, ‘Can we say what diet is best for health?’, Annual Review of Public Health, vol. 35, pp. 83-103 21p.
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