Data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrates that heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes are top killers of Americans every year. But the top risk factor that you think may be causing these conditions, and therefore death, may not be exactly what you think it is. It’s not high blood pressure, or smoking, or alcohol use, or even stress – it’s an unhealthy diet.
A new global study shows that poor diet amongst Americans and those in other countries, including what we’re not eating, is what’s killing us. Here’s what you should know.
The Effects of What You Eat, and What You Don’t Eat, on Health
According to the lead author of the study, Ashkan Afshin, poor diet is now causing more deaths than things like smoking and high blood pressure in many countries. But what does “poor diet” really mean?
The study’s authors say that it’s not just the consumption of unhealthy foods, such as soda, sugar, and processed food, that’s the problem – it’s a lack of healthy foods in the diet. In fact, the study concluded that low intake of healthy food is more important than the high intake of unhealthy food in affecting health. When healthy food is missing from the diet, people miss out on the important vitamins and nutrients that they need for optimal health.
Dietary Risk Factors Identified in the Study
The research team considered 15 different dietary factors and their impact on health, disability, and death. What they found might surprise you: red meat, sugary drinks, and processed meats were at the bottom of the risk chart for the majority of countries. The things that were at the top of the chart, which means that they were more highly associated with diet-related deaths, were eating too much salt, not eating enough whole grains, and not eating enough fruit. The other nine risk factors on the chart were not eating enough nuts and seeds, not eating enough omega-3s, not eating enough vegetables, not eating enough fiber, not eating enough polyunsaturated fatty acids, not eating enough legumes, not eating enough calcium, not drinking enough milk, and eating too much trans fat. (In the United States, a lack of whole grains was the greatest risk factor.)
Easy Steps to Improving Your Diet and Your Health
If you could simply change your diet to improve your longevity, why wouldn’t you? Study after study, including this most recent one, has highlighted the effects of poor diet on health, disability, disease, and death. You can take steps today to start improving your diet and your health. Consider trying some of the following:
- Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal;
- Add whole grains, nuts, and seeds to your meal;
- Focus on omega-3-rich foods, such as fish;
- Reduce or eliminate processed foods from your diet;
- Watch your salt intake;
- Focus on healthy fats; and
- Try to eat a balanced diet that incorporates a variety of colors (the more colorful your plate of food is, the better).
You can eat healthier and live longer, and that choice starts now. Put yourself on the path to better health and a happier life by paying closer attention to what you eat – and what you don’t eat.