You’ve heard it before: You are what you eat. Turns out, though, that you might also be what you’re not eating. According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating more or less of certain foods is linked to a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes.
For the March 2017 study, researchers took a closer look at the effect that 10 specific food items had on Americans’ mortality. By combining U.S. government data on the number of deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in 2012 with people’s responses to national health surveys on their eating habits, they found that most Americans aren’t eating the recommended amounts of the foods that were studied — and this was associated with about 45 percent of heart-, stroke-, and diabetes-related deaths.
The foods included in the study were chosen because of their proven benefits or links to various health risks (for example, nuts were chosen because they’ve been shown to help improve cholesterol levels), but one was ultimately found to have the largest effect on American mortality: salt. In fact, the researchers linked excess sodium consumption to a whopping 10 percent of the deaths studied.
In an accompanying editorial, the study authors warned that this study isn’t rock-solid proof that eating too much or too little of the 10 foods studied will actually be deadly. It’s not a bad idea, however, to fill up your plate with the good stuff… and say “sayonara” to the rest.
So, how should you alter your diet to increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life? Here’s what the study authors recommend, based on their findings:
- Fruit: 3 “average-sized” fruits per day
- Vegetables: 2 cups cooked or 4 cups raw veggies per day
- Nuts and Seeds: 5 one-ounce servings per week (approx. 20 nuts per serving)
- Whole Grains: 2.5 servings per day
- Polyunsaturated Fats (i.e. those found in vegetable oils): 11 percent of calories per day
- Seafood (i.e. salmon and sardines): 8 ounces per week
- Red Meat: 1 serving per week (approx. 1 medium steak, or the equivalent)
- Processed Meat (i.e. bacon, bologna, and hot dogs): None recommended
- Sugary Drinks: None recommended
- Salt: 2,000 milligrams per day (just under 1 teaspoon)