Bacon, Sugary Sodas, Too Few Nuts Tied to Big Portion of US Deaths

Gorging on bacon, skimping on nuts? These are among food habits that new research links with deaths from heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

Overeating or not eating enough of 10 specific foods and nutrients contributes to nearly half of U.S. deaths from these causes, the study suggests.

”Good” foods that were undereaten are nuts and seeds; seafood rich in omega-3 fats, including salmon and sardines; fruits and vegetables; and whole grains.

”Bad” foods or nutrients that were overeaten include salt and salty foods; processed meats including bacon, bologna and hot dogs; red meat including steaks and hamburgers; and sugary drinks.

The research is based on U.S. government data showing there were about 700,000 deaths in 2012 from heart disease, strokes and diabetes, and on an analysis of national health surveys that asked participants about their eating habits. Most didn’t eat the recommended amounts of the foods studied.

The 10 ingredients combined contributed to about 45 percent of those deaths, according to the study.

More detail on risks, benefits

It may sound like a familiar attack on the typical American diet, and the research echoes previous studies on the benefits of heart-healthy eating. But the study goes into more detail on specific foods and their risks or benefits, said lead author Renata Micha, a public health researcher and nutritionist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Micha said the foods and nutrients were singled out because of research linking them with the causes of death studied. For example, studies have shown that excess salt can increase blood pressure, putting stress on arteries and the heart. Nuts contain healthy fats that can improve cholesterol levels, while bacon and other processed meats contain saturated fats that can raise levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol.

In the study, too much salt was the biggest problem, linked with nearly 10 percent of the deaths. Overeating processed meats and undereating nuts and seeds and seafood each were linked with about 8 percent of the deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration’s recent voluntary sodium reduction guidelines for makers of processed foods is a step in the right direction, as are taxes that some U.S. cities have imposed on sugar-sweetened beverages,  Micha said.

A journal editorial said public health policies targeting unhealthy eating could help prevent some deaths, while noting that the study didn’t constitute solid proof that ”suboptimal” diets were deadly.

The study’s recommended amounts, based on U.S. government guidelines, nutrition experts’ advice, and amounts found to be beneficial or harmful in previous research:

‘Good’ ingredients

— Fruits: 3 average-sized fruits daily

— Vegetables: 2 cups cooked or 4 cups raw vegetables daily

— Nuts/seeds: 5 1-ounce servings per week — about 20 nuts per serving

— Whole grains: 2½ daily servings

— Polyunsaturated fats, found in many vegetable oils: 11 percent of daily calories

— Seafood: about 8 ounces weekly

‘Bad’ ingredients

— Red meat: 1 serving weekly — 1 medium steak or the equivalent

— Processed meat: None recommended

— Sugary drinks: None recommended

— Salt: 2,000 milligrams daily — just under a teaspoon.

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