Weight Loss

Eating Healthy Improves Weight Loss and Decreases Mortality Risk

A quick internet search for “how to eat healthy” returns many results. Suggestions to eat more of this, less of that. But scientists agree, and studies back them up, people that focus on eating a well-rounded diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and lean proteins have better overall health. In fact, regardless of which specific diet you follow, if the general premise is to eat from those categories, the risk of dying from cancer, cardiovascular illness, and respiratory and neurodegenerative disease all decrease significantly.

What often impacts whether people adhere to a diet is if the guidelines are strict, limiting what foods can be consumed. Not only does that make eating difficult at home, but eating out, whether at a restaurant or at another household, can also be tricky to navigate. Eventually, people often yearn for the foods that they are restricted from, putting them in a situation where they may stray from the diet.

A recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, shows “there is more than one way to eat well and derive the attendant health benefits,” said Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist who was not involved in the study. This opens the door for people to finetune the foods they consume to their personal preferences- but still adhere to a diet mostly comprised of the staples:

“For example, if you are eating healthy Mediterranean, and after a few months you want to try something different, you can switch to a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet or you can switch to a semi-vegetarian diet,” said Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Or you can follow U.S. dietary guidelines and create your own healthy eating plate.”

The study was completed over a period of 36 years, with 75,000 women that were participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the longest running studies of risk factors that impact chronic diseases in women. In addition to those participants, there were also more than 44,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which similar the Nurses’ Health Study, evaluated men’s health as it relates to risk factors for chronic diseases. Participants completed eating questionnaires every four years and the results were sorted by the participant’s diet quality.

“[Adhering to the highest] diet quality as compared to the lowest was associated with a roughly 20% reduction in all-cause mortality,” said Katz, president and founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative, a global coalition of experts dedicated to evidence-based lifestyle medicine. Even if people didn’t regularly consume high-quality foods initially, if they improved their diet over time, the study also showed reductions in all-cause mortality from chronic diseases. Improving their diet by 25%:

  • Reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 6-13%
  • Reduced the risk of death from cancer by 7-18%
  • Reduced the risk of death by neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia, by up to 7%
  • Reduced the risk of death by respiratory disease by 35-46%

This study shows the great potential that improving our eating habits can have on our health, even if that change is only by 25%. Imagine the benefit to our bodies if we doubled that shift- focusing largely on plant-based foods, lean proteins, less sugar, sodium, and fewer highly-processed foods. Improved health can be achieved without the need to adhere to inflexible eating patterns and limited foods. Vary your choices but keep quality and quantity in mind- and enjoy!





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