The three diets researchers say are even more harmful than smoking

Diets high in salt are one of the main causes of diet-related death, a Lancet study shows.

Diets high in salt are one of the main causes of diet-related death, a Lancet study shows. Photo: Getty

A global study has revealed what we should be eating to fix major flaws with our diets, and to reduce the risk of an early death. 

Poor diets are killing more people in the world than tobacco smoking, a large Lancet analysis recently showed.

According to the global analysis – funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – one in five lives were cut short in 2017 due to “suboptimal” eating habits. This resulted in 11 million deaths worldwide, the study authors estimated.

Researchers said there were three main bad eating behaviours behind the deadly diet trends.

They are:

  1. high salt;
  2. not enough whole grains; and
  3. not enough fruit.

Diets containing too much sodium were linked to three million deaths worldwide, while diets lacking whole grains and fruits contributed to another five million deaths combined.

The causes of these diet-related deaths included cardiovascular disease (10 million global deaths), cancer (913,000), and type 2 diabetes (almost 339,000), the authors said.

Some people are eating 86% more than the recommended amount of sodium per day. Photo: Getty

How did Australia compare with the global average?

According to the researchers, Australians are healthier eaters than many of our global counterparts.

In 2017, 14.7 per cent of Australian deaths were thought to be related to diet, compared to 22 per cent of global deaths.

In further good news, Australia is doing much better than it was almost three decades ago – in 1990, 25.2 per cent of Australian deaths were linked to diet.

The percentage of deaths was as high as 38 per cent in some regions, such as Central Asia.

There were 108 Australian diet-related deaths per 100,000 people per year, placing us ahead of the US (171 per 100,000), UK (127 per 100,000), Sweden (136 per 100,000) and New Zealand (139 per 100,000).

Israel had the lowest diet-related deaths, at 89 per 100,000 people a year.

Increase these foods in your diet

Globally, the main foods lacking in many diets were nuts and seeds, whole grains and milk, the authors said.

On average, people only ate 12 per cent of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds; about a quarter (23 per cent) of the recommended amount of whole grains; and 16 per cent of the recommended amount of milk.  

Reduce these foods in your diet

Many Australians and New Zealanders eat far too much red meat, processed meat, soft drinks, and foods high in trans fats and sodium every day, the study found.

Globally, people drank around ten times the recommended amount of sugary drinks, almost double the recommended range of processed meat, and 86 per cent more sodium.

“Among unhealthy food groups, consumption of sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages were higher than the optimal level in nearly every region,” the authors wrote.

“Red meat consumption was highest in Australasia, southern Latin America, and tropical Latin America,” they added.

Avoiding junk food is not enough

In an accompanying editorial, University of Cambridge’s Professor Nita Forouhi said the cost of some healthy foods are “prohibitive” for many people in lower income settings.

“A menu of integrated policy interventions across whole food systems, internationally and within countries, is essential to support the radical shift in diets needed to optimise human, and protect planetary health,” she said.

Health groups in Australia have called for a national nutrition strategy. 

“Focussing on eating patterns that are high in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables and low in sodium is likely to have a bigger impact on reducing heart disease in Australia than policies that just target individual nutrients like sugar or fat,” Heart Foundation’s Director of Prevention Julie Anne Mitchell said.

The Dietitians Association of Australia criticised the government for leaving out nutrition initiatives from the 2019 federal budget. 

“While the budget prioritises important health areas, it appears to leave Australia’s growing obesity issue unchecked,” DAA CEO Robert Hunt said in response to Tuesday’s 2019 budget announcement.

“Our people are our nation’s most valuable asset. Yet we continue to place a band aid on the impacts of lifestyle related chronic disease, rather than addressing the source of the cause.” 

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