Health In Focus
  • A healthy diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular mortality and premature death, finds a new study
  • It is important to focus on the overall healthy eating pattern, rather than on individual nutrients
  • Swapping one serving of red or processed meat for one daily serving of nuts or legumes was found to lower the risk of total mortality by 8% to 17%

People who improve their diet quality over time may significantly reduce their risk of premature death, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Eating healthy is the key to improving the overall health. People who consume more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and limit the intake of red and processed meats and sugary beverages may reduce their risk of early mortality. The study found that improving diet quality over 12 years is associated with lower total and cardiovascular mortality. The findings emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy eating patterns in the long-term.

Long-Term Healthy Eating Pattern Associated with Lower Risk of Premature Death

A research team led by Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, an assistant professor of nutrition at Ohio University, analyzed the association between changes in diet quality among 74,000 adults for a period of 12 years (1986 to 1998). They also analyzed the risk of death over the subsequent 12 years (1998 to 2010).
Eat Healthy, Improve Diet Quality to Avoid Premature Death

The data came from two long-term studies, the Nurses' Health Study (47,994 women) and the Health Professionals' Follow-up Study (25,745 men). In both the studies, the participants answered questions about their diet every four years and about their lifestyle and health every two years.

The diet quality was assessed using three different scoring methods:
  • The 2010 Alternate Healthy Eating Index
  • The Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score
  • The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score
The three methods were used to score various types of foods or nutrients. The lower scores were given to less healthy foods or nutrients and the higher scores for healthier foods or nutrients.

Findings of the study
  • Even modest improvements in diet quality over a 12-year period was found to be associated with a reduced risk of death in the subsequent 12 years
  • Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and omega-3 fatty acids contributed to an improvement in the diet quality
  • A 20% increase in diet quality scores was linked to an 8% to 17% reduction in the risk of death, depending on the diet score
  • Worsening diet quality was associated with a 6% to 12% increase in the risk of premature death
  • Among the participants who maintained higher scores for 12 years on any of the three healthy diet patterns, there was a 9% to 14% reduction in total mortality from any cause
  • Among the participants who followed an unhealthy diet at the beginning of the study, but whose diet scores improved the most, the risk of premature death in the subsequent years was significantly reduced
"Overall, our findings underscore the benefits of healthy eating patterns including the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Our study indicates that even modest improvements in diet quality could meaningfully influence mortality risk and conversely, worsening diet quality may increase the risk," said Sotos-Prieto.

Simply swapping one serving of red or processed meat for one daily serving of nuts or legumes was found to lower the risk of total mortality.

"Our results highlight the long-term health benefits of improving diet quality with an emphasis on overall dietary patterns rather than on individual foods or nutrients. A healthy eating pattern can be adopted according to individuals' food and cultural preferences and health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all diet," said Frank Hu, professor and chair of the Harvard Chan School Department of Nutrition and senior author of the study.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine..

Tips to Eat Healthy

  • Replace trans fats with healthy fats by choosing lean meat and fish
  • Avoid packaged and processed foods and opt for more fresh ingredients
  • Prepare your own meals to monitor what goes into your food
  • Avoid canned fruits and vegetables
  • Munch on a handful of nuts like walnuts and almonds to get your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E
  • Beat your cravings with a bowl of fresh fruit/vegetable salad

Benefits of Healthy Eating

  • Eating healthy improves the overall health and reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
  • Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables reduce aging
  • It helps maintain a healthy body weight and prevents obesity
  • It helps stay active and also enhances mood
  • Eating healthy increases life expectancy
Reference :
  1. Frank B. Hu et al. Association of Changes in Diet Quality with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. New England Journal of Medicine (2017), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1613502.
Source: Medindia

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