Published on May 19, 2022

It’s What We Don’t Eat

Couple chopping vegetables in the kitchen

The Global Burden of Disease Study is still providing us insights into world health. The results were published in The Lancet and provide a flip view of how we often talk about healthy habits. While often the focus on diet is on what we need to eat less of, this analysis of global diets and death statistics determined that it’s actually what we don’t get enough of that is hurting us the most.

An estimated 6 million diet related deaths in 2017, across the 21 global regions studied, were attributed to low whole grain intake. While there were some variations based on the different regions studied, in the United States, low whole grain intake came out on top as responsible for the most dietary related deaths. Excess sodium was tied with low whole grains, so technically not what we aren’t eating, with another 6 million deaths attributed to too much sodium. Low fruit intake was the third main culprit for dietary related death, with 2 million deaths.

 Cardiovascular disease came out on top as the main diet-related reason for death. Given that low whole grain intake and high salt intake came out on top as the main dietary components, this comes as no surprise. Whole grains help the body in many ways- keeping the digestive tract healthy, lowering cholesterol, helping modulate blood sugars, among many other things. Whole grains, when eaten as such, are limited in processing, high in vitamin and mineral content and high in fiber.

While the researchers discuss the limitations of their study, such as not using information on malnutrition or obesity as inputs related to risk, these results are useful in looking at our own day to day dietary habits in relation to whole grains and salt. Here are a few tips to consider.

  1. Are you choosing whole grains at 2 of 3 of your meals? Try old fashioned oatmeal for breakfast. Switch your sandwich bread to 100% whole wheat or whole oat. Choose quinoa or brown rice at dinner.
  2. If you like to make muffins, pancakes or waffles, switch out half or all of the flour to whole grain flour. You can even make your own oat flour by grinding whole oats in the blender.
  3. Read labels of breads and cereals. Look for minimal ingredients and the first ingredient should be a 100% whole grain- whole wheat, whole oat, or whole grain flour blend.
  4. While you are reading that label, look at the sodium! Most of our sodium comes from processed foods and eating out. Choose foods with 150 mg or less per serving and then only have 1-2 servings a day.
  5. Instead of packaged foods, choose more fruits and vegetables at snacks and meals.
  6. Limit eating out to only two times per week. A restaurant meal may have 1,000 mg or more of sodium, whereas that same meal at home could be half that or less.