The Health Section

Poor nutrition tied to nearly half of deaths from heart disease, diabetes, stroke

We all know that nutrition impacts health. Researchers of a recent study found 45.4 percent of deaths from heart disease, diabetes and stroke in 2012 were tied to poor diet.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in March 2017, examined the link between 10 dietary factors and deaths from heart disease and diabetes between 2002 and 2012.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found 702,308 adults over 25 years of age died from heart disease, diabetes or stroke in the United States in 2012. Of those adults nearly half of those who died had high sodium intake, had lack of nuts and seeds in their diet, were drinking too many sugar sweetened beverages, consumed low amounts of fruits and vegetables, consumed low seafood omega-3 fats or consumed high processed meats.

Nutrition affects the total body

If the body receives the necessary nutrients from a well-rounded diet, a person can feel more energized, more productive and may have an overall feeling of health and well-being. Gabriela Cora, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., M.H.A., M.B.A., a medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health, equates the body to a Ferrari.

“A Ferrari could run very well, but if you don’t give it the right fuel and you press the accelerator, it’s not going to work very well,” Cora said. “Even if you have the best of cars, its best performance will only happen if you use the right fuel.

“Our bodies work the same way in this respect. To keep them in great shape and optimal performance, we need to feed the right food to them.”

The researchers of the JAMA study found the diets of people across the U.S. were “suboptimal” in 2002 and 2012. This means the body was not likely receiving the necessary nutrients and minerals for optimal health, but may have been affected negatively by over consumption of foods directly worsening our health.

For people between the ages of 25 and 64, sugar sweetened beverages were the leading factor associated with deaths caused by heart disease, stroke and diabetes. For people older than 65, sodium levels in a person’s diet was a leading factor.

A balanced diet for well-rounded health

Although the general diet of the United States in 2002 and 2012 was suboptimal, the researchers of the JAMA study found people began to eat more healthily as time went on and they grew older.

In 2002, drinking too many sugar sweetened beverages was the third leading risk factor for deaths related to diet-associated heart disease. A decade later, sugar sweetened beverages declined to the seventh cause of diet-associated deaths, according to the JAMA study.

Eating a better diet ultimately led to a 26.5 percent decrease in deaths related to heart disease in the U.S. from 2002 to 2012.

Sheryl Maggipinto, a dietitian and wellness coach at Aetna, recommends eating “real, wholesome foods.”

“When you eat real foods, you’re giving your body nutrients and you’ll generally feel better,” she said. “It comes down to being aware of what you’re eating and how it’s affecting you.”

More evidence as diet trends and patterns become popular

As trendy diets and programs promoting better heart health and weight loss are becoming more popular, it can be difficult to know if there are truly any benefits.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined popular dietary patterns, foods and nutrients that are promoted for cardiovascular health. Researchers wanted to provide clinicians with accurate information for patient discussions about the various diets and trends.

For example, the researchers found juicing may help people consume more servings of fruits and vegetables, but that it could also increase caloric intake. When juicing, there’s also a chance to have a spike in sugar intake, Cora added.

“If someone is juicing, they can forget to think about how many calories or how much sugar they’re putting in the cup,” Maggipinto said. “An apple has about 95 calories and 19 grams of sugar. If you’re juicing three or four, it adds up.”

Researchers found a dietary pattern with high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes; a moderation of nuts; limited quantities of lean meat, fish, low-fat and nonfat dairy products and liquid vegetable oils could reduce the risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Leafy greens and plant-based foods can also improve the risk factors for cardiovascular disease among children and adults, according to the study. In addition to important minerals and nutrients, plant-based foods can provide additional benefits to the body.

“By eating more plants, we may contribute to minimizing inflammatory conditions that may relate to allergies and chronic conditions,” Cora said, “including autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol or cancer.”

Access to fresh, wholesome foods

More education, as well as programs at schools and workplaces, to encourage healthy eating could have a positive impact on a community. The researchers concluded that increasing access to healthy foods could further reduce the number of deaths caused by heart disease, diabetes or stroke.

Food deserts, or the inability to access healthy foods, is one of the driving factors that led to the launch of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. The Challenge is a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of Counties and is being administered by CEOs for Cities. The Challenge will award $1.5 million in prizes to communities that show measurable improvements in health indicators and social determinants of health.