Half of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke deaths caused by diet

Last time, I told you about a study that predicted major long-term health benefits of tackling poor eating habits in school-aged kids. The study found that if schools provided fruits and veggies and nixed sugary drinks, we’d see an across-the-board drop in deaths from cardiometabolic diseases long into the future.

As I said in that Reality Health Check — and as I’ve said many times before — forming good eating habits while we’re young is one of the best ways to make sure they stick. Of course most of us didn’t have that advantage. Which means that, as a nation, we’re all suffering from our bad eating habits.

The study I want to tell you about today puts the problem into sharp focus. According to the report published in JAMA, a substantial proportion of deaths in the United States from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are associated with a suboptimal diet.

Naturally, the researchers and I differ in some respects in regards to what constitutes a “suboptimal diet,” but the general message is one we can all agree on: What we eat (and what we don’t) largely determines our health outcomes.

According to this study, high sodium intake was the biggest dietary culprit in cardiometabolic disease–related deaths. That’s the part I take the biggest issue with, since, in general, salt isn’t a huge concern of mine. Unless you’re consuming vast quantities of it, I just don’t see it as an issue. If you’re eating fresh, organic foods and salting them to taste, I can virtually guarantee you’re not going overboard on sodium.

But here’s where it does become a problem: The people who are consuming the most sodium tend to be getting it from unhealthy sources, like fast food and junk foods. And those types of foods on their own are a source of disease.

The next biggest dietary risk factors for cardiometabolic disease were low intake of nuts and seeds, high intake of processed meats, low consumption of omega-3 fats from seafood, not enough vegetables or fruits, and too many sugar-sweetened beverages. (Side note: Once I win the war on sugar, I am definitely taking on fruits. The fact is, most fruits are nothing more than sugar bombs disguised as health food. Plain and simple. But that story is for another day.)

Bottom line of this study: If we want to make a dent in disease in this country, we need to start with food. Of course I am always encouraged when I see studies backing up what I’ve been saying for years. But at the same time, the deafening silence that follows is incredibly frustrating. We have now for the billionth time identified the root cause of the catastrophic health status in our country.

But do you think the powers-that-be will throw any public health muscle or budget into changing it? Not likely.

I have been begging for years for common-sense education, policy, and legislation to tackle our food-related health problems. What will it take for the government to take action? Clearly millions of people dying prematurely isn’t enough. And neither is an overburdened healthcare system, faltering under the weight of all the new diabetes and heart disease cases they’re seeing every day.

If you’ve read my new book The A-List Diet, you have all the tools you need to make good dietary choices, and, in turn, to cut your risk of cardiometabolic disease. It covers all the bases mentioned in this study, with a personalized method of making sure you’re eating all the right foods and none of the wrong ones. If you don’t already have a copy, you can find one at your local bookstore or order one now by clicking here.

In the meantime, here’s a positive takeaway from the study… The researchers did note a decline in cardiometabolic disease deaths related to dietary factors over time. Meaning that even without legislation or major public health initiatives, people are hearing the message I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for years. At least some people, anyway.

But the message needs to be heard more broadly. Nearly half of all deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are directly caused by diet. With the raging debate over healthcare in this country, isn’t it time we looked into fixing our food system? That alone could save billions of dollars, which could then be used to fund any changes either side would like to see.