Which country ranks first for fewer diet-related deaths?


I can’t tell you how often, over the years, I’ve heard a client tell me that they have indeed tried to eat better before coming to see me. But what eating better usually means to them is what they have cut out of their diet.

It’s always a focus on what they consider to be bad foods. I point out, though, that rather than focussing on what they should not eat, they should instead put an emphasis on what to include.

Firstly, when you fill up on nutritious eats, there’s simply less room for those foods that don’t offer much nutrition. At the same time, including fare that’s loaded with nutrients, you’re also consuming an arsenal of powerful disease-fighting weapons.

New research, recently published in the journal the Lancet, shows just how important this concept is. This study looked at death globally in 2017 and found that of the 11 million deaths, a whopping one in five was linked with poor diet with cardiovascular disease being the largest contributor, followed by various cancers and type 2 diabetes.

But here’s what many people will be surprised by: in 2017, more deaths were caused by diets with too low quantities of foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds than by diets containing high levels of foods like trans fats, sugary drinks, and high levels of red and processed meats.

The thinking that the first step towards healthy eating is cutting out the “bad” foods is the wrong route to take. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t aim for changing our food environment where these foods are currently everywhere we turn. Making healthy choices more available can go a very long way in changing what we put on our plates.

The researchers looked at 15 different dietary elements – diets low in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk, fibre, calcium, seafood omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, and diets high in red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fatty acids, and sodium and death rates from 1990 until 2017.

But among those 15 dietary factors, more deaths were linked to not eating enough healthy foods compared with eating too many unhealthy foods. While sodium did rank as a dietary factor linked to health problems, most of what we eat comes in processed foods so it also goes hand in hand with a likelihood of falling short on those healthy options. Homemade eats are less likely to yield high sodium counts.

In 2017, there was a ten-fold difference between the country with the highest rate of diet-related deaths (Uzbekistan) and the country with the lowest (Israel). The countries with the lowest rates of diet-related deaths were Israel (89 deaths deaths per 100,000 people), France, Spain, Japan, and Andorra.

There are issues of food security that also need to be considered (which the authors do bring up) as in some countries, healthy food options are not as easy to come by.

But when it comes to the comparisons of various countries, having been to Israel quite a number of times and then looking at the study criteria, I can understand the high ranking here.

These healthy foods form the foundation of eating in Israel – from homemade offerings and street food to fine dining establishments. Pulses, such as chick peas or lentils, are everyday fare.

The history of love of pulses in the region goes back to biblical times when Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a pot of lentil soup. (By the way, Canada produces 67% of the world’s lentils so we need to get more on our menus here!)

Across the country, assorted versions of hummus with tahini (sesame seed butter) with various toppings are also standard everywhere you turn whether as a snack or as part of a meal. And they’re always delicious and something you want to eat, not just something you should eat.

But pulses are also part of the repertoire of creative chefs at the hottest eateries. Check out this dish: a bed of fish tartar with avocado and spring onion beneath black lentils and yogurt. A quick stir yielded a heavenly combination.

In Israel, no meal is complete without salad, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy – chopped tomatoes and cucumbers dressed with extra virgin olive oil are the ingredients in the basic Israeli salad.

When staying in a hotel as a tourist, salads at the Israeli breakfast is a highlight of any hotel stay.

Check out these offerings and see how delicious making half your plate fruit and vegetables can be.

It is definitely standard in the top ranking country of this study.

Other research, which backs up this study’s findings, shows why our new food guide is urging Canadians to head in the same direction.

So if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck when you’re trying to improve your diet, focus on what you need to add to your plate, not take away.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Nutrition News

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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4 Comments on “Which country ranks first for fewer diet-related deaths?”

  1. Jean Heys
    May 7, 2019 at 7:49 am #

    Do you mean “In Israel no meal is complete without a salad”? 🤔

    • May 7, 2019 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks, Jean, for catching that typo! I would not have been happy to see this at a later time!

      • Jean Heys
        May 7, 2019 at 12:19 pm #

        Haha! Thanks for not being offended by my copy edit. I’ve just finished reading and being inspired by (Benjamin) Dreyer’s English 😊 At least you know I was reading your post (and, in fact, I’m a regular and supportive reader, though I rarely comment)

  2. May 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm #

    Jean, how could I be offended? On the contrary, I really appreciate your catching this mistake! I also appreciate feedback so please provide i anytime you like! Thank you!

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