June 12, 2019 9:16 am Leave your thoughts
Today, we’re here to worry you. There’s something in our food out there that’s killing 11 million of us each year. Are you safe? Or are you eating dangerously?
A bigger killer than smoking
Bad diet: it’s a bigger killer than smoking. A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet shows that what we eat is directly responsible for more deaths than puffing on cigarettes: for one in five deaths around the world, in fact, with 11 million people dying sooner than they should because of what they’re eating. The analysis, published in April this year, was based on research from the Global Burden of Disease Study, which assesses just how people are dying in every country in the world.
In some parts of the world, the problem is an excess of certain foods. In others, it’s because of a lack of other foods (and in many countries, it’s both of those). These ‘poor quality’ diets are shortening lives all around the world, including in the UK. According to the analysis, there are 127 diet-related deaths per 100,000 people in the UK each year (meaning that a total of 14% of UK deaths are directly linked to diet).
Let’s take a look at what we should – and shouldn’t – be eating, to stay safe.
The recommended daily dose of salt is 3.2g. Globally, however, the daily amount consumed is an average of 6g. It’s not just salt sprinkled over our chips that’s the problem, but the salt found inherently in processed foods of all kinds, including shop-bought bread. (The salt in soy sauce is also a leading culprit in some countries, though there’s less excessive use of soy sauce in the UK.)
Salt, in excess, raises our blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It has a direct effect on our hearts and blood vessels, reducing their effective operation and leading to heart failure. It’s no surprise, therefore, that excess salt intake has been pinpointed as being directly responsible for 3 million unnecessary deaths each year. Indeed, 10 million of the 11 million early deaths in the study have a link to cardiovascular disease – it’s a major killer.
But we mustn’t cut salt out of our diets completely. We need a healthy amount of this element – although nowhere near as much as most of us are currently taking in. There are a few, very easy ways to cut down.
First, we need to start thinking before we upend that salt cellar at the table! Most of the food on our plates will already be salty enough. We need to taste it first, and only use additional salt if there’s genuinely a problem with the seasoning.
In addition, we need to be careful with ready-made food. Food manufacturers in the UK are gradually reducing the level of salt in their ready-made products, on the grounds that a slow and steady reduction will allow their customers’ taste-buds to accustom themselves to the new taste almost without noticing. Some are further along this process than others, but their labels will make this clear. And of course, wherever we can, we should make our food at home ourselves. That way we know just what’s gone into it!
When we’re using salt at home, we should choose the best-quality salt we can. A pack of Naturally Good Food’s top-quality sea or rock salt lasts for ever and costs pennies, but is much richer in minerals than the ‘table salt’ readily available in the UK (see our blog here Why don’t we sell organic salt?, where we explain just how amazing it is – despite not being ‘legally’ organic). The kind of salt we sell at Naturally Good Food brings out the flavours of food with an extraordinary subtlety. Rather than scooping up spoonfuls of salt just to bring some kind of taste to a disappointing dish, a mere pinch of the good stuff makes food delicious. Cut back, while gaining on taste and nutrition – it’s a real winner!
Whole grains are foods like wholemeal flour (in wholemeal bread, for instance, or wholewheat pasta), brown rice, oats, quinoa, and any grain where the fibrous outer layer has been left as fully intact as possible. We’re supposed to eat 126g of whole grains per day – most of us manage a measly 29g.
A lack of whole grains in the diet is linked in the research to a further 3 million early deaths. Eating a lot of whole grains, however, protects our hearts, thanks to the fibre they contain, which keeps our blood pressure stable.
Whole grains also do a great job of producing long-lasting stable energy, meaning that we can use them to fuel ourselves, without resorting to fatty or sugary foods for a quicker burst of energy. They contain a full complement of vitamins and minerals – as little as possible has been taken out – meaning that they provide the best possible nutrition.
Naturally Good Food has a wonderful selection of whole grains here. It’s easy to get your recommended daily dose by mixing and matching the options on our shelves.
Eating fruit is hardly a chore, yet it seems that for many of us, we’re not up to the mark here either, with too little fruit in a diet linked to 2 million unnecessary deaths. Fruit is a ‘cardioprotective’ element: with its fibre and high levels of vitamins and minerals, it prevents us from developing heart disease. (Interestingly, in places where people over-consume salt, eating a great deal of fruit can help outweigh that.)
The best type of fruit to eat is fresh fruit, including the skin. But we shouldn’t rule out dried fruit either, or tinned, bottled, juiced or pureed fruit, especially if we’re struggling to reach the new target of ten servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
Nuts and seeds
According to the research, the elements most missing from global diets are nuts and seeds. In some places around the world, people eat a lot of these, but in the UK, they’re often seen as a fairly eccentric choice of snack or meal. While we should be eating about 25g of these each day, we’re actually munching on just 3g. Partly, this is because nuts and seeds have developed a reputation as being overly high in fat. Partly, it’s a lack of easy access to them. Partly, it may be to do with cost.
Nuts and seeds are high in fat – but mainly in good and essential fats, and they’re absolutely packed with fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. There’s almost nothing better for us to snack on than a nut or a handful of seeds: they’ll protect our organs, strengthen our bodily systems and help keep every part of us in the best possible condition.
We don’t tend to eat many main meals based on nuts in this country (think of the reaction vegetarians often get when it’s revealed they eat (gasp!) nut roast for Christmas dinner). But there’s no earthly reason why we shouldn’t. In addition to nut roasts, nuts make amazing curries (we’re particularly fond of our recipe for peanut and potato curry here) and bakes. Ground-down, they’re a wonderful, flavoursome flour for use in baking. Nut milks make a great occasional dairy milk alternative, even for those of us who aren’t vegan, and nut and seed butters are just the ticket when you can’t think what to put on your toast in the morning. We’re also fond of throwing in handfuls of nuts and seeds to any kind of baked goods, to bring crunch, flavour and nutrition of the best kind.
Or of course, you can simply keep a bag to hand to snack on! We sell snack pack sizes of nuts – including bags of mixed organic nuts – at Naturally Good Food, as well as our family size and bulk packs and boxes of nuts. Buying in bulk is the most economical way to purchase our nuts (you can refrigerate or freeze them until you get round to eating them all). If your budget is particularly tight, concentrate on the generally cheaper seeds, or on nuts in the form of nut butters instead.
Vegetables, just like fruit, have great cardioprotective properties. Like fruit, they’re rich in fibre and bring us a wealth of vital vitamins and minerals. The previous guidelines of ‘five a day’ have, of course, been increased to ‘ten a day’, with the additional recommendation that we all try to ‘eat a rainbow’, consuming as many different colours of fruit and vegetables as we can. Remember that things like lentils, chickpeas and beans (pulses) count as one serving of vegetables. We might not be able to make ten servings straight away – or even every day – but it’s a good target to aim for.
Eat more fibre
Fibre’s the catch-all in this round-up, really: if we eat plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, we’re going to achieve the recommended 30g of fibre per day in our diets. Fibre is singled out as an element in many nutritional studies because its effects are so important in the body. Fibre is what gives our food bulk. It keeps our bowels in good health, our cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels healthy (thus reducing our chances of developing cancer and Type 2 diabetes, another big diet-related killer) and our weight stable. See our blog Nature’s Medicine Chest: fibre solves everything! for a full analysis of just why we need to be sure to get enough fibre in our diets.
Luckily, it’s easy to do. Simply buy whole grains, nuts and seeds from Naturally Good Food – in bulk, if necessary, to maintain a wonderful fibre-rich diet throughout the year. If eaten along with a daily dose of fruit and vegetables, we should find ourselves regular, slim and healthy (pretty much guaranteed!).
You’re in safe hands
Are we preaching to the converted here? Perhaps not. Even those of us with the most intense interest in food and nutrition seem to need continual kicks up the backside to prevent us from sliding off into bad habits. There’s nothing wrong with being reminded from time to time, by expert analysis and research like that in The Lancet, of just what constitutes a healthy diet and what we need to avoid.
According to these experts, a diet rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, fibre, nuts and seeds – and low in salt – will give us the best possible protection from cancers, heart disease and diabetes. So follow the experts’ advice, shop with us, and relax. You’re in safe hands…with Naturally Good Food!
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This post was written by Yzanne