Health Effects of Dietary Risks in 195 Countries 1990-2017: A Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 found that the greatest dangers to health through eating badly were too much salt and not enough fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses, milk and other calcium sources, and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Although processed meat and, to a lesser extent, sugary drinks were cited as ‘unhealthy’ but ‘frequently consumed’, the study reveals that a lack of ‘healthy’ foodstuffs was more harmful than an excess of ‘unhealthy’ ones.
This means even if a person eats too much-processed meat, but eats plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, Omega-3 and calcium sources and pulses, he or she is less at risk than a person who consumes little or no processed meat and sugary drinks, but not enough of the other ingredients.
According to the report, countries should focus their efforts on making healthy produce available and affordable and on promoting them, more so than on encouraging people not to eat unhealthy produce.
Deaths directly related to a poor diet have increased worldwide from eight million to 11 million a year between 1990 and 2017, but the authors consider this to be more due to population increase and people living longer than due to food quality worsening.
Of these 11 million, a total of 10 million were from cardiovascular conditions such as stroke and heart problems, another 913,000 through cancer and 339,000 through Type II diabetes.
By contrast, smoking is the direct cause of eight million deaths a year, air pollution causes seven million deaths annually and 10.4 million deaths are caused by high blood pressure.
Israelis are the healthiest eaters, with 89 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants directly caused by a poor diet, whilst the French diet is the second-healthiest and the Spanish diet is the third.
This seems to be yet another good reason to settle in Spain: a gap of 20 countries exists between this and the UK and 40 between Spain and the USA; these nations are 23rd and 43rd respectively out of the 195 studied.
Despite Indians being known to eat quality food with their national dishes based upon rice, chickpeas, spices and vegetables, they come 118th out of 195 in terms of dietary quality and related mortality, and China comes 140th.
Latin America is generally less healthy than the UK and USA, but more so than India and China: Chileans come 35th, Ecuador is 40th, Cuba is 45th, Brazil is 50th, Uruguay is 51st and México 57th.
Japan is the fourth-best, behind Spain, and sandwiched between the second- and third-best countries of France and Spain, the Pyrénéen principality of Andorra comes fifth.
The world’s worst for dietary deaths is the former Soviet State of Uzbekistan, followed by Afghanistan at 194, and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Oceanic nation of Papua New Guinea jointly at number 192.
These 195 countries were separated into 21 global regions for the purpose of the research, and an overall deficiency of the healthy ingredients cited was seen in each and every one of these, showing that the relative wealth or otherwise of a country does not necessarily affect dietary health, and that there is no specific divide between first-world and third-world nations.
Deficiencies, of course, varied by country, but with some clusters of totally diverse and geographically-distant nations sharing similar characteristics.
In the Caribbean, Latin America and parts of Africa, a healthy amount of pulses are eaten, but in China, Japan and Thailand, diets suffered from too much salt.
Bangladeshis do not eat enough fruit, and in the USA, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, Russia and Iran, not enough grains, especially wholegrain cereal, were consumed.
Christopher Murray, head of the Health Measurement and Evaluation Institute at Washington University, stressed that a poor diet is ‘responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor’, something that ‘has been known for years but is now confirmed’, and which ‘highlights the urgent need to coordinate efforts on a global level to improve diet through cooperation between different sections of the food chain and new policies to promote balanced diets’.
Authorities worldwide need to ‘place more emphasis on encouraging balanced diets and access to healthy produce than on restricting less-healthy foodstuffs’, the research authors say.
Rather than speaking in ‘portions’, such as ‘five a day’, the study referred to weights to determine the optimum consumption of healthy produce – fruit, including fresh, frozen, cooked, dried or canned, but without salt, sugar or pickles added, should be approximately 250 grams a day; vegetables, following the same criteria as fruit, should make up 360 grams a day; roughly 60 grams of legumes, or pulses should be eaten daily; around 125 grams a day of wholegrains, which can be found in breakfast cereal, bread, rice, pasta, biscuits, muffins, pancakes, Mexican tortilla, and similar foodstuffs; 21 grams a day of nuts and seeds; 435 grams a day of milk, which can be full-fat, skimmed or semi-skimmed but only from dairy sources; no more than 23 grams of red meat or two grams of processed meat a day; a maximum of three grams of sugary drinks, not including 100% fruit or vegetable juices; at least 24 grams of fibre daily; around 250mg of Omega-3 acids, found in seafood and oily fish and Omega-6 acids, typically found in vegetable-based oils, should make up 11% of the total daily energy intake; and saturated fat and salt should be limited at 0.5% of daily energy intake and three grams, respectively.