A recent analysis, published in Lancet, found that people’s daily diet is a bigger killer than smoking and is now involved in one in five deaths around the world.
According to the study, salt – whether in bread, soy sauce or processed meals – shortened the highest number of lives.
Researchers say this study is not about obesity, but “poor quality” diets damaging hearts and causing cancer.
An influential study shows that the food we eat is putting 11 million of us into an early grave each year.
The Global Burden of Disease Study is the most authoritative assessment of how people are dying in every country in the world.
The latest analysis used estimates of countries’ eating habits to pin down how often diet was shortening lives.
The dangerous diets were those containing:
- Too much salt – 3 million deaths
- Too few whole grains – 3 million deaths
- Too little fruit – 2 million deaths
According to the study results, low levels of nuts, seeds, vegetables, omega-3 from seafood and fiber were the other major killers.
About 10 million out of the 11 million diet-related deaths were because of cardiovascular disease and that explains why salt is such a problem.
Too much salt raises blood pressure and that in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Salt can also have a direct effect on the heart and blood vessels, leading to heart failure when the organ does not work effectively.
Japan and China have curiously contrasting fortunes that reflect their changing relationship with salt.
China consumes enormous amounts of salt with soy and other salty sauces being a key part of the country’s cuisine.
The rising popularity of processed foods is introducing yet more salt to their diet. It has the highest death rate because of salt of any country.
Whole grains, fruit and vegetables have the opposite effect – they are “cardioprotective” and lower the risk of heart problems.
Cancers and type 2 diabetes made up the rest of the diet-related deaths.
No country is perfect and each favors some part of a healthy diet more than others, but this is how far the world is from an optimal diet.
According to the study, the healthy foods missing from the most diets around the world were nuts and seeds.
The huge fat versus sugar debate and the link between red and processed meats with cancer have attracted huge headlines in recent years.
Although, the study did show too many fizzy drinks were being drunk in every corner of the world.
The researchers say it is time for health campaigns to switch from talking about nutrients like fat and sugar and instead promote healthy foods.
Bad diets are knocking a couple of years off life expectancies around the world, according to the researchers.
Mediterranean countries, particularly France, Spain and Israel, have some of the lowest numbers of diet-related deaths in the world.
Countries in South East, Southern and Central Asia are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
- Israel has the lowest diet-related deaths – 89 per 100,000 people a year
- Uzbekistan has the highest diet-related deaths – 892 per 100,000 people a year