A new study, published in the journal The Lancet, is an analysis of some of the data from something called the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBDS).
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the GBDS is a huge study spanning 195 countries and 27 years.
In the analysis published yesterday, they took a look and the link between diet and chronic disease.
The results are a little confusing and because it’s a global study. Parsing out what it says about the typical diet in affluent countries like the USA and Canada is challenging and finding specific advice for your situation, probably impossible.
Interestingly, the most significant linkage between diet and chronic disease was less about what we eat than about what we fail to eat.
They took a look at 15 dietary factors that have been linked to chronic disease from either consuming too much or too little.
- Dietary fiber
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Beans (Legumes)
- Whole Grains
- Nuts and Seeds
- Red Meat
- Processed Meat
- Total calories compared to energy expenditure
Fun fact, the High-Income North Americans, ranked in the top 4 for consumption of ALL these things. Here’s that chart.
Globally and specifically in North America, we consume too much of the bad things and not enough of the right things. No surprise there.
Compared to the rest of the world, North Americans standout in the areas of trans fats, processed meats, and sugar consumptions.
Globally, the biggest killer was high sodium consumption followed closely by under consumption of whole grains and fruits.
These three factors alone contributed over ½ of all diet-related deaths.
For North Americans, the top five risk factors were Underconsumption of whole grains, nuts, and seeds, fruits and vegetables, and overconsumption of sodium.
Sugar consumption and red meat consumption correlated lower than I would have guessed.
North Americans significantly over consumed red meat and were the worst over consumers of sugar
Yet, red meat consumption was the lowest contributing factor to diet-related deaths or reduced longevity for high-income North Americans and sugar overconsumption placed in just 11th position.
Again, this kind of study is more helpful for government policy-making than individual health planning. And, I might argue that a bunch of assumptions was baked into how the research was done, i.e., they assumed a lot about the risk factors and THEN looked for proof of the hypothesis rather than letting the facts fall out from pure data analysis.
The takeaways for most of us are not surprising.
Reduce your salt intake. Notice I said “salt” not “sodium” as the study authors did. Those two things are often conflated, but they are not the same thing. More about that another day.
Increase your consumption of real whole grains. Remember that a LOT of the products labeled whole grain are not truly whole grain.
Increase your consumption of nuts and seeds. Variety is key here. Mix it up.
Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially dark color fruits like blueberries or red grapes and leafy green vegetables.
Increase your consumption of Omega 3, most easily done by eating more oily seafood.
By the way, curious like I was about what countries have the healthiest diets?
#1 Israel (Yeah, I was surprised too. I’ve been there, and it didn’t seem that healthy…)
(Don’t confuse these countries with Blue Zones. That’s a whole different question.)
PS – Another fascinating study came out today on addictive foods. I’ll be back in a day or two with the details.