Most people know that nutrition is at least somewhat important, but the true necessity of nutrition for health is often not realized until its almost too late. The “standard American diet” is comprised of too many calories, and especially too many calories from added sugar and fat — and it’s not really a secret that much of our nation’s food is loaded with less-than-stellar ingredients that are no good for human health.
In fact, a recent analysis of USDA data conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that our consumption of fat and sugar has skyrocketed since the 1970s, while our average consumption of vegetables has dwindled. More shockingly, the number of calories the average American consumes has increased by about 23 percent since 197o. Nearly half of the calories Americans consume nowadays come from two food groups: flour and grains, and fats and oil. Comparatively, forty-some-odd years ago those two food groups accounted for just 37.3 percent of total calorie intake.
While change is slowly beginning to take place, the overall abysmal diet of the average U.S. citizen has not been without consequence. New research indicates that a staggering 45 percent of deaths caused by cardiometabolic diseases are related to poor dietary choices.
Poor diet fuels disease and death
The National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute(NHBLI) has recently published data revealing that nearly half of all deaths from heart and metabolic diseases — including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke — were linked to substandard eating habits. Of the 702,308 adult deaths related to cardiometabolic diseases recorded by the NHBLI in 2012, 318,656 were found to be related to poor consumption of foods and nutrients considered essential for healthy living — and a corresponding over-consumption of foods that are overwhelmingly not necessary for health.
Overall, consuming too much sodium was linked to the highest percentage of deaths, but over-consumption of processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat was still problematic. A low consumption of health-promoting foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, polyunsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids was also noted.
Past research shows better diets could prevent disease and death
These findings are in line with previous estimates that have suggested that many chronic diseases can actually be prevented with diet and lifestyle changes. For example, research published by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health found that an overwhelming majority of type 2 diabetes could be prevented simply with lifestyle modifications. Eating right, exercising more and quitting smoking were among the top changes to be made to decrease diabetes risk. [RELATED: Learn more about keeping disease at bay and maintaining good health at Prevention.news.]
Similar findings have been uncovered in the instance of cardiovascular diseases as well. A report from the CDC found that a whopping 80 percent of coronary artery disease deaths could be avoided with similar lifestyle changes — and that at least 200,000 heart disease-related deaths could be prevented each year with those modifications. Diet and lifestyle changes could also put a stop to roughly 50 percent of stroke deaths, as well.
CBS News reports that at the time, then-CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden commented,”These findings are really striking. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that happen, that don’t have to happen.”
It’s widely known that most Americans should be eating healthier; Pew Research Center data has even revealed that most people are at least somewhat aware of the fact that their diets could be better. But one has to wonder, if the true impact of an unhealthy diet was greater realized, would more people be inclined to put more effort into eating well?