Eat better, live longer

Fruits and vegetables in a heart shape over a white background

We’ve all heard it before: to be as healthy as you can be, choose a healthy diet. And while that’s easier said than done, the impact of improving your diet may be large. That’s according to a recent study that estimated the impact of dietary modifications on premature cardiovascular deaths in this country. The verdict? More than 400,000 deaths each year could be prevented with dietary improvement.

Exactly how should you improve your diet?

Just what does “improving your diet” mean? Limiting unhealthy foods is a good start. Fewer French fries, less salt, and a little less ice cream are all good ideas and make sense. But this new report, and several expert guidelines, suggest that it’s not only what you don’t eat. What you do eat matters, too. It’s also important to eat more healthy foods.

In this study, researchers analyzed patient surveys between 1990 and 2012, food availability data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and data on cardiovascular deaths in 2015. They estimated that the biggest contributors to the premature cardiovascular deaths of more than 220,000 men and about 190,000 women were due to

  • high consumption of salt and trans fat (a particularly unhealthy form of unsaturated fat commonly found in processed foods as “partially hydrogenated oils”)
  • low consumption of nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.

And here’s why it matters: Cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death in the U. S.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for an estimated 787,000 deaths each year. And dietary factors can affect one’s risk of cardiovascular disease because

  • obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, and both obesity and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • high blood pressure (hypertension) is more common among those with high salt intake and obesity
  • diet affects cholesterol levels
  • research suggests that not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and fiber may increase risk.

Ever started a new diet?

It’s easy to make recommendations about improving dietary choices. Making long-lasting change is hard. Willpower and commitment is often not enough. Just ask anyone who has been frustrated by repeated and unsuccessful efforts to lose weight, lower blood pressure, or lower cholesterol by starting a new diet.

The pervasiveness of unhealthy diets and the epidemic of obesity in this country have led to the suggestion that we should approach this as a public health problem that might be improved by taxing unhealthy foods and subsidizing healthier options. Another new study looked at the impact of this approach. In fact, in places where unhealthy foods were taxed or where healthy foods became less expensive through subsidies, diets tended to improve. Of course, that raises the question of how much government agencies or others should be involved in swaying consumers’ dietary choices. But from a public health perspective, the data seem clear: if you want to encourage healthier eating, one approach is through the pocketbook.

And, finally…

If you’re not sure what constitutes a healthy diet, it might be because there is no one diet that’s best for everyone. However, there a number of dietary guidelines worth considering, including:

Talk to your doctor about your diet. Depending on your overall health and current diet, it might be a good idea to meet with a nutritionist. The goal is to come up with a healthy diet you can stick with. It may not be easy, but a change that could prevent more than 400,000 deaths per year is a change worth making. After all, one of those prevented deaths could be yours.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Ephesians 6:10 NIV 

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 1 Chronicles 29:11 NIV 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30 NIV

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV 

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6 NIV 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV 

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? Psalm 18:31 NIV

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. Psalm 44:3 NIV 

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20 NIV 

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10 NIV

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