Rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer, the top two causes of death worldwide, are rising rapidly. The greatest risk factor for both? The food on your plate.

The landmark Global Burden of Disease Study looked at dietary consumption between 1990 and 2017 in 195 countries, focusing on 115 particular types of food and nutrients in order to determine the link between mortality and eating habits. Over the course of the study’s 27 years, the investigators saw that unhealthful eating habits were responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor, even including smoking. The results of their study were published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

In evaluating the eating habits of the 195 countries studied, the United States was ranked 43rd, with 171 deaths per 100,000 people. The two most populous countries, India and China were ranked 118th and 140th respectively. Israel was ranked first in terms of healthy eating, with 89 deaths per 100,000 people due to unhealthy eating, and Uzbekistan was ranked last, with 892 deaths per 100,000 people attributed to unhealthy eating habits.

According to Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, “This study affirms what many have thought for several years — that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world.”

In their analysis of eating habits, the researchers considered 15 items: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, fiber, calcium, milk, omega-3 fatty acids from seafood, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, red meat, processed meat, sugary drinks, and sodium.

Their findings indicated that the healthy food items were not consumed in sufficient amounts to maintain proper health. In particular, only 12% of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds were consumed on a daily basis by the average individual. Conversely, unhealthy items, especially sugary drinks, were consumed in amounts that far exceeded the optimum recommended daily intake.

One finding of the study was especially intriguing: statistical analysis of the data showed that eating insufficient amounts of healthy foods was at least as dangerous — if not more dangerous — than eating too many unhealthy foods. This can be understood by way of analogy. If we think of the human body as a giant chemistry set, we can imagine that any compound that is needed is easy to produce. The body knows the proper “recipe,” so all that is needed are the proper ingredients. However, if the necessary ingredients are missing, it is impossible for the body to create the required compound.

The authors of this study noted that among the 15 items studied, the highest effects on mortality were due to diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, low in fruits, low in nuts and seeds, low in vegetables, and low in omega-3 fatty acids. These six items are particularly  significant, and each one accounts for more than 2% of deaths worldwide.

The researchers concluded by stressing the fact that for many years the medical community has focused on eliminating unhealthy foods from our diets. However, this new study has shown that it is at least as important to eat healthy foods. These are the foods that will allow our body to utilize its natural healing abilities to create the compounds and substances required to keep us healthy.

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

We provide our participants with two nutritionist-guided meals every day, and those who need it receive a third as well. In this way, we protect our participants from the many dangers of poor nutrition.

Of course, Beacon of Life provides much more than great nutrition. We maintain an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

We provide a variety of services, including primary care, hospital care, medical specialty services, prescription drugs, nursing home care, emergency services, home care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, adult day care, recreational therapy, meals, dentistry, nutritional counseling, social services, laboratory / X-ray services, social work counseling, and transportation.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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