According to a study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), diet indeed plays a major role in increasing a person’s risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or diabetes — collectively referred to as ‘cardiometabolic killers’. And that’s not just a generalization.
By incorporating data from several different sources including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, the National Center for Health Statistics, and findings from studies and clinical trials that link diet and disease, the research team led by Professor Renata Micha of Tufts University in Boston was able to derive the following conclusion: among over 700,000 people who died from a cardiometabolic disease in 2012, more than 318,000 (or nearly 45%) deaths could be linked to the patients’ diets. In fact, the data shows that the number of those who died because they were not eating enough healthy foods was almost comparable with the number of those who died because they were eating too much of particular unhealthy foods.
As part of their research, the team focused on 10 dietary factors that were typically associated with cardiometabolic diseases: fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds, whole grains, processed meats, unprocessed meats, polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-3 fats, sugar-sweetened beverages and salt (or sodium).
What they found was this: Americans were under-consuming (or not eating enough of) fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds, whole grains, vegetable oils (such as those found in soybeans, walnuts and sunflower seeds that are rich in polyunsaturated fats) and fatty fish (like herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines); and over-consuming (or getting too much of) salt, processed meats and sugary-sweetened beverages.
The most number of cardiometabolic deaths was linked with eating too much salt (66,508 deaths); followed by not eating enough nuts and seeds (59,374 deaths); and eating too much processed meats (57,766 deaths). The least number of deaths was linked with consuming too little polyunsaturated fats (16,025 deaths) and eating too much of unprocessed red meats (2,869 deaths).
The highest number of stroke-related deaths was linked to low intake of nuts and seeds (54,591 deaths). For hypertension related deaths, it was high sodium intake (7,505). And for diabetes deaths, the worst culprit was high consumption of processed meats (11,900).
In terms of demographics, there were more diet-linked deaths among African-Americans and Hispanics compared with non-Hispanic whites. And in terms of gender, more men than women died because of dietary factors.
So what do all these figures mean? In a nutshell, it suggests that in order to lower the risk of dying from a cardiometabolic disease, Americans should have to do more than just eat more healthy foods. They have to eat less unhealthy foods as well. Of course, that’s easier said than done but at least, if we want those statistics to change, we know where to start.