A Bad Diet Is More Deadly Than Smoking or High Blood Pressure

The researchers pinned down which dietary habits are most problematic.

What you put on your plate can play a serious role in how likely you are to die before your time: According to a new study in the Lancet, a poor diet is actually the leading cause of death worldwide, contributing to more of them than conventional risk factors like tobacco use and high blood pressure.

In the study, researchers analysed food consumption habits of adults ages 25 and older from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries and compared how that affected their chances of premature death.

They found that in 2017, 11 million deaths—or 22 percent—worldwide were caused by poor diet. More specifically? Of these deaths, 9.5 million were due to cardiovascular disease, over 900,000 to diet-related cancers, over 330,000 to diabetes, and over 136,000 to kidney diseases.

On the other hand, more commonly known risk factors like high blood pressure and tobacco use was linked to 10.4 million and 8 million deaths, respectively. Researchers also found that poor diet is linked to more years lived with disability, too.

“Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer,” lead study author Ashkan Afshin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told Runner’s World.

As for what made the diets so poor? There were three main things that affected risk of early death most strongly: high intake of sodium (more than 3 grams a day), low intake of whole grains (less than 125 grams a day), and low intake of fruits (less than 250 grams a day). Additionally, diets low in nuts and seeds and low in vegetables were also top contributors.

In fact, nut consumption had the largest gap between optimal consumption and actual—people only ate 12 percent of the recommended 20.5-gram intake. On the opposite end, consumption of processed meat is 90 percent higher than the recommended 2-gram intake.

A bad diet can mess with your body in many ways. Not only can it increase your risk of obesity, which comes with its own health risks, including heart disease, but getting too much or too little of specific nutrients can also hurt your health in other ways, too. A diet low in fruit is associated with an increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease; diets high in sodium can increase risk of stomach cancer; and diets low in fibre can increase risk of colon cancer, Afshin explained.

So though it is important to limit your intake of sodium and added sugar, it is just as beneficial to make sure you are subbing them wisely, by increasing your consumption of fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and vegetables.


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