How Dietary Factors Influence Your Disease Risk

Nutrition: image by lassens.comYou are probably aware that having too much sugar, salt, or fat in your diet can raise your risk for certain diseases. And you know too that healthy eating can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health conditions. And you also know that good nutrition means a healthy eating plan that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and limits saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars.

    At a Glance

  • Researchers found that eating too much or too little of certain foods and nutrients can raise the risk of dying of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
  • These results suggest ways to change eating habits that may help improve health.


But were you aware that the major cardiometabolic diseases – heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes – pose substantial health and economic burdens on society? To better understand how different dietary components affect the risk of dying from these diseases, a research team led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University analyzed data from CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and national disease-specific mortality data. The study was supported in part by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Results appeared on March 7, 2017, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers investigated the relationships of 10 different foods and nutrients with deaths related to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. They also compared data on participants’ age, sex, ethnicity, and education. They found that nearly half of all the deaths in the United States in 2012 that were caused by cardiometabolic diseases were associated with sub-optimal eating habits. Of 702,308 adult deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, 318,656 (45%) were associated with inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients widely considered vital for healthy living, and overconsumption of other foods that are not.

The highest percentage of cardiometabolic disease-related death (9.5%) was related to excess consumption of sodium. Not eating enough nuts and seeds (8.5%), seafood omega-3 fats (7.8%), vegetables (7.6%), fruits (7.5%), whole grains (5.9%), or polyunsaturated fats (2.3%) also increased risk of death compared with people who had an ideal intake of these foods/nutrients. Eating too much processed meat (8.2%), sugar-sweetened beverages (7.4%), and unprocessed red meat (0.4%) also raised the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes-related deaths.

The study showed that the proportion of deaths associated with sub-optimal diet varied across demographic groups. For instance, the proportion was higher among men than women; among blacks and Hispanics compared to whites; and among those with lower education levels.

“This study establishes the number of cardiometabolic deaths that can be linked to Americans’ eating habits, and the number is large,” explains Dr. David Goff, director of the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences. “Second, it shows how recent reductions in those deaths relate to improvements in diet, and this relationship is strong. There is much work to be done in preventing heart disease, but we also know that better dietary habits can improve our health quickly, and we can act on that knowledge by making and building on small changes that add up over time.”

These findings are based on averages across the population and aren’t specific to any one person’s individual risk. Many other factors contribute to personal disease risk, including genetic factors and levels of physical activity. Individuals should consult with a health care professional about their particular dietary needs.
                                                                                                                                                                  – Tianna Hicklin, Ph.D.

In a nutshell, an important way to keep control of your health and your ability to stay active longer, is to watch your diet now. Adding salt to food is no longer necessary as most processed foods contain more salt than you realize. Sugar is also added to many food products to make them taste better, especially those that are low-fat. You’d probably be surprised at how much ‘hidden’ sugar you have consumed at the end of the day. Bottom line: it’s not always easy to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, so to mitigate the risk of too much of the ‘bad’ ingredients, read content labels. At least that way you can be more aware of, and control, the ingredients you eat. You’ll not only feel better but you’ll look better too!

Be sure to check out these articles for additional information about why you should plan your nutritional goals and helpful ways to stick to your plan – Good Nutrition and Why You Need It and My Grocery Shopping List.

Thank you for stopping by. Let us know if you found this article useful. Wishing you the best of health!

What to learn more? Tap an image and visit our affiliate Amazon for some great books on the subject…

Source: National Institutes of Health

Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

7 thoughts

  1. An important question that needs answering is, “what percentage of the population is unaware of their dietary needs vs. what percentage of the population chooses to ignore and/or abuse their dietary needs?” Although I believe a small percentage are truly unaware or lack the resources to obtain quality nutrition, a majority have chosen to believe their unhealthy lifestyle habits will “magically” circumvent unhealthy outcomes. The sad truth is, a majority of these folks will succumb to unnecessarily and potentially life threatening diseases.

  2. Great question Doctor. I don’t remember learning much about good nutrition in school, so I’m hoping that the curriculum has changed over the years, so I’d venture to say that the older population is unaware of 1. their nutritional needs, 2. the impact it has on their health and 3. that the processed foods that claim to ‘fix’ a problem – eg. high fat, are adding other dangerous ingredients, like sugar.

    I also doubt that most people are aware of that sugar is addicting. And I would hope that most people that aren’t trying to improve their nutrition – believe that they can ‘start tomorrow’. I certainly hope that they don’t succumb to disease because of poor choices. I don’t think there is anything sadder than preventable illness.

    Thank you so much for the great question Doctor and for the conversation! I always enjoy your visits!

    1. I am very happy to hear that Cathi! I started exercising about 2.5 years ago. In fact, I met a good friend at the gym and while I insisted that I was happy with my nutrition, she insisted that I had room for improvement and would never be really healthy until I did. Well, I’ve got a lot to learn, but with baby steps, the changes aren’t difficult. I started drinking black coffee a long time ago because milk and sugar weren’t alway easy to find (fresh) and I couldn’t live without my coffee. I figure that if I could do that, I can do anything. As with anything, small steps, eye on the goal and still keep your ‘treat’ days when you need a little treat.
      Thank you for stopping by, I hope you find helpful hints and visit often!

      1. Yes, I visit your blog a lot and appreciate your posts. Thanks so much for your encouraging words about eating habits and exercise. There are some years I’m “in the zone” and feel great…and other years I lose momentum and have to get back on the horse. Thanks again for your support.

        1. Thanks for your support Cathi – and be sure to let me know if you have any questions. I have some great resources available. hugs!

          PS. I stopped by your site and I like how unique you are – refreshing, keep up the great work! The beginning… LOL

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