A new study has found that around 400,000 American deaths in 2015 could be attributed to bad diets. An unhealthy diet contributes to heart disease and stroke. Not only does consuming unhealthy foods lead to premature death and disease, but excluding healthy food options such as nuts, vegetables, and whole grains can also increase the risk of disease.
Lead researcher of the study Dr. Ashkan Afshin explained, “Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing more people in 2015 than any other cause. Poor diet is the top risk factor for cardiovascular disease death and, therefore, deserves attention from decision-makers in the U.S. when setting health agendas.”
The study suggests that nearly half of heart disease and stroke cases may have been prevented if Americans adhered to a healthier diet.
The focus on healthy eating is often surrounded by avoiding foods and ingredients that are unhealthy, but this leaves out what foods should be eaten instead. Ashin added, “This study highlights the urgent need for implementation of policies targeting these unhealthy food groups as well healthy foods, such as nuts, whole grains and vegetables.”
The study explored data collected between 1990 and 2012, along with data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other sources.
The researchers then looked at deaths in 2015 that were related to heart and vascular causes. They uncovered that unhealthy diet choices and a lack of eating healthy foods contributed to over 222,000 deaths among men and 193,000 among women.
Registered dietician Samantha Heller, who was not involved in the study, explained the importance of incorporating healthy foods into one’s diet: “If someone’s diet is low in nuts, seeds, fruit, fiber, whole grains and vegetables, then they are likely replacing those foods with less healthy options, such as deli meats, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, sodas, boxes of mac-and-cheese, sugar-sweetened beverages and other highly processed, junk, fast and prepared foods.”
“A crummy diet means the body has to work at Mach-10 to battle the onslaught of biochemical, physiological, and inflammatory consequences. No wonder so many of us complain about being exhausted all the time and suffer from very serious and oftentimes preventable cardiovascular diseases,” Heller added.
A plant-based diet has been linked with reduced inflammation, improved immune system, gastrointestinal health, and greater energy.
Heller recommended simple swaps that Americans can try in order to incorporate healthier foods into one’s diet, which includes sliced avocado, tomato, and hummus on whole grain bread instead of a ham and cheese sandwich; a veggie burger topped with salsa instead of a cheeseburger; brown rice and vegetable-edamame paella instead of mac and cheese; and a salad pizza instead of a pepperoni pizza.
Heller concluded, “The good news is it is never too late or too early to ditch unhealthy foods, dig into a plate of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains, and watch how our bodies respond by getting healthier and happier.”