If the latest study by Lancet is to be believed, then bad diets kill more people each year than tobacco consumption. If your eyes have popped out already, here’s another myth-buster. The study says it is not the presence of junk food in the diet, but rather the absence of healthier and more nutritious food choices that causes harm.
In the context of this study, health experts advise that a balanced diet is one which is natural to one’s habitat, geography, genetic programming and is easily maintainable throughout life. Apparently one in five deaths could be prevented by changing dietary habits and including healthier choices in one’s diet.
The study in brief
Some of the key findings from the Global Burden Study evaluating consumption of 15 major foods and nutrients among adults aged 25 years or older across 195 countries between 1990-2017 are as below;
1. One in the five deaths (11 million) in 2017 was associated with poor diet with CVD (cardio vascular disease) being the biggest contributor.
2. Intake of all 15 dietary elements assessed, including wholegrain, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts, were sub-optimal for almost every region of the world and not one dietary factor was consumed in the right amounts by all 21 regions of the world.
3. Globally, a diet low in whole-grains was the most common leading dietary risk factor for deaths. In East Asia and Asia Pacific region, a diet high in sodium was the leading dietary risk factor for deaths.
4. More deaths were caused by diets with too low amounts of foods such as whole grains, fruits & seeds than by diets with high levels of foods like trans- fats, sugary drinks & high levels of red and processed meats.
Leading physician andi lifestyle interventional cardiologist Dr K K Aggarwal prescribes a simple and straightforward dietary habit. “One should go for foods that are seasonal, locally grown and natural.” He says that going natural means preferring first generation of products like sugarcane over refined sugar, brown rice over white rice and so on.” He feels people are paying the price of their choices of eating refined products of refined sugar, rice and flour.
Dr M. Wali, Senior Consultant in Medicine at Sir Gangaram Hospital, says, “We in India are far from understanding a balanced and healthy diet though we had the most nourishing combination in the traditional thali. A huge population is now under threat due to junk foods and overeating. Besides, we should be very cautious about pollution, diet and water.” He says that though tackling of pollution issue requires political will, the other two can be managed at an individual level as water can be boiled and diet supervised.
On new fads of keto diets and intermittent diet plans, experts caution that these should not be adopted without medical supervision. Dr Aggrawal advises against any diet plan that cannot be maintained throughout life.
Change at all levels
Quoting the study, Soumaya Swaminathan (Chief Scientist, WHO) advocates for an urgent need for research, policies & strategies to improve dietary diversity and promote healthy and nutritious diet. “This research is a call to action to governments everywhere to prioritise solutions to address this single leading cause of death and disability. The data reveals that consequences of poor diet affect people regardless of age, sex and socio-demographic factors or their places of residence. All people are at risk and no country can afford to neglect this threat to health and development”, says Katie Dain, CEO, NCD (Non communicable Diseases) Alliance.