CHICAGO—Gorging on bacon, skimping on nuts? These are among food habits that new research links with deaths from heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
Overeating or not eating enough of the 10 foods and nutrients contributes to nearly half of US deaths from these causes, the study suggests.
“Good” foods that were undereaten include nuts and seeds, seafood rich in omega-3 fats, including salmon and sardines, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
“Bad” foods or nutrients that were overeaten include salt and salty foods; processed meats including bacon, bologna and hot dogs; red meat including steaks and hamburgers; and sugary drinks.
The research is based on US government data showing there were about 700,000 deaths in 2012 from heart disease, strokes and diabetes and on an analysis of national health surveys that asked participants about their eating habits. Most didn’t eat the recommended amounts of the foods studied.
The 10 ingredients combined contributed to about 45 percent of those deaths, according to the study.
It may sound like a familiar attack on the typical American diet, and the research echoes previous studies on the benefits of heart-healthy eating.
But the study goes into more detail on specific foods and their risks or benefits, according to lead author Renata Micha, a public health researcher and nutritionist at Tufts University.
The results were published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Salt ups blood pressure
Micha said the foods and nutrients were singled out because of research linking them with the causes of death studied.
For example, studies have shown that excess salt can increase blood pressure, putting stress on arteries and the heart.
Nuts contain healthy fats that can improve cholesterol levels, while bacon and other processed meats contain saturated fats that can raise levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
In the study, too much salt was the biggest problem, linked with nearly 10 percent of the deaths.
Overeating processed meats and undereating nuts and seeds and seafood each were linked with about 8 percent of the deaths.
The Food and Drug Administration’s recent voluntary sodium reduction guidelines for makers of processed foods and taxes that some US cities have imposed on sugar-sweetened beverages are steps in the right direction, Micha said.
A journal editorial said public health policies targeting unhealthy eating could potentially help prevent some deaths, while noting that the study isn’t solid proof that “suboptimal” diets were deadly.
The study’s recommended amounts, based on US government guidelines, nutrition experts’ advice, and amounts found to be beneficial or harmful in previous research.
The “good” ingredients are:
Fruits: 3 average-sized fruits daily
Vegetables: 2 cups cooked or 4 cups raw vegetables daily
Nuts/seeds: 5 1-ounce servings per week—about 20 nuts per serving
Whole grains: 2 ½ daily servings
Polyunsaturated fats, found in many vegetable oils: 11 percent of daily calories
Seafood: about 8 ounces weekly
The “bad” ingredients are:
Red meat: 1 serving weekly—1 medium steak or the equivalent
Processed meat: None recommended
Sugary drinks: None recommended
Salt: 2,000 milligrams daily—just under a teaspoon. —AP