A recent study published in the lead medical journal Lancet by a research team from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at University of Washington concluded that poor diet kills more people (10.9 million annually) than tobacco ( 8 million) and high blood pressure (10.4 million). This study was fairly extensive and conducted across 40 nations with 130 scientists contributing, and the findings were startling. Poor diet is no longer a lifestyle disease restricted to developed Western nations, its a global problem across gender, economic groups and age. Among the leading causes of deaths due to poor diet cardiovascular diseases ranked as number 1 followed by cancer diabetes and kidney disease.
The chief culprit: Processed foods
As expected the chief culprit behind diet related diseases were unhealthy processed foods produced in factories by the ever growing food industry. These foods are calorie dense , and low in nutrition. They are often promoted as health foods due to vested interest of lobbies. The classic example is the seven countries study by Ancel Keys which concluded fats are harmful while sugar and carbohydrates are good for you, in which data was widely misrepresented to influence policy making on health world wide. You can find cook books from the 80s where castor sugar and margarine both well known contributors of heart attack and diabetes were promoted as health foods. Tackling obesity and lifestyle requires a multi pronged approach however ditching all processed foods is a very good place to start . The purpose of food is to nourish one’s body not become the cause of death, hence it is very important for us to develop a mindful approach towards food and adopt a diet which is largely plant based, with lean proteins and healthy fats. They keep us satiated for a longer time.
Poor diet: No longer a First World problem
The study concluded that maximum diet related deaths occurred in Egypt while the least diet related deaths occurred in Japan. So is Obesity no longer a first world problem? Mc Donald’s and Coca Cola lifestyle had been long considered the culprit of diet related diseases , so what has changed. The answer is simple, with growing population low nutrient processed foods and cheaper to produce especially in densely populated third world countries. Take the example of India , where cold pressed oils are now a luxury when till 70s they were the norm. A relentless marketing campaign with misinformation against cold pressed oils and wrong information on chemically refined oils has been the root cause of a major shift in cooking medium towards cheaper refined oils. Studies have proven refined oils are far more harmful towards health. Yet, medical professionals, lobbies and marketing agencies are promoting it and lifestyle diseases continue to rise in India.
Japan in contrast has countered poor diet related diseases with a more sustainably farmed food. This despite being one of the most industrialized nations in the world. The mindfulness in preparing food and treating it as a prime source of good health has enabled Japan to have the least deaths related to poor diet.
Remedy: Eat better; price of poor diet too high
The study concluded that consumption of low amount of healthy food and high amount of processed unhealthy foods high in sugar ,refined carbohydrates and sodium( a much neglected fact compared to fats and sugar) were responsible for deaths related to poor diet. To correct this one has to consume a sustainable diet which is primarily plant based which is better for the human health and planetary health. Are you still pondering whether the pesticide free spinach or pomegranate is too expensive? The cost of hospitalization is higher. Corrective action will go a long way in preventing deaths related to poor diet. It’s never too late to start.