8 key ways diet affects health

The Global Burden of Disease study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation is described as the most comprehensive analysis on the health effects of diet ever conducted.

11 April 2019
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  • Globally, 11m preventable deaths a year are caused by unhealthy eating – more than tobacco smoking – making up 22% of all adult deaths in 2017.
  • The leading causes of death are cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes, according to the research, which was published in the Lancet.
  • Excessive salt intake (specifically the sodium in normal table salt) leads to an estimated 3m deaths a year. An equal number pass away due to insufficient whole grains, while 2m eat too little fruit.
  • Low levels of nuts, seeds, vegetables, omega-3 from seafood and fibre are the other major killers.
  • On average, people don’t consume enough nuts and seeds (12% of the recommended daily amount), milk (16%) and whole grains (23%). Conversely, humans overeat red meat (118% of suggested intake), salt (186%) and processed meat (190%).
  • Out of the 195 countries included in the study, the UK ranks 23rd. Italy, France and Spain perform among the best globally with the fewest deaths attributed to unhealthy eating, lending credence to the so-called Mediterranean diet.
  • Approximately 127 out of every 100,000 deaths in the UK relate to diet, though this is less because of salt and more because of insufficient whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
  • While the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest a salt maximum of 3g, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that 3-5g of salt per day would be a healthier amount.

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