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The diets cutting one in five lives short every year

The food we eat is putting 11 million of us into an early grave each year, an influential study shows.

The analysis, in the Lancet, found that our daily diet is a bigger killer than smoking and is now involved in one in five deaths around the world. 

Salt – whether in bread, soy sauce or processed meals – shortened the highest number of lives.

Researchers say this study is not about obesity, but “poor quality” diets damaging hearts and causing cancer. 

So which diets have got it in for me?

The Global Burden of Disease Study is the most authoritative assessment of how people are dying in every country in the world.

The latest analysis used estimates of countries’ eating habits to pin down how often diet was shortening lives. 

The dangerous diets were those containing: 

  1. Too much salt – three million deaths
  2. Too few whole grains – three million deaths
  3. Too little fruit – two million deaths

Low levels of nuts, seeds, vegetables, omega-3 from seafood and fibre were the other major killers.

“We find that diet is one of the dominant drivers of health around the world, it’s really quite profound,” Prof Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington told the BBC.

How is this killing people?

About 10 million out of the 11 million diet-related deaths were because of cardiovascular disease and that explains why salt is such a problem.

Too much salt raises blood pressure and that in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Salt can also have a direct effect on the heart and blood vessels, leading to heart failure when the organ does not work effectively. 

Whole grains, fruit and vegetables have the opposite effect – they are “cardioprotective” and lower the risk of heart problems.

Cancers and type 2 diabetes made up the rest of the diet-related deaths.

How far is the world off a perfect diet?

No country is perfect and each favours some part of a healthy diet more than others, but this is how far the world is from an optimal diet.