10 foods linked to higher risk of death

Bottom Line:

The researchers found that almost half of all deaths occurring due to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes could be linked to suboptimal eating habits consisting of:

  1. Sodium (> 2 grams/day)
  2. Processed meats (>0 grams/day)
  3. Sugar-sweetened drinks (>0 grams/day)
  4. Unprocessed red meat (>14.3 grams/day)


  1. Nuts and seeds intake (< 20.2 grams/day)
  2. Omega-3-rich fats seafood. (<250 mg/day)
  3. Vegetables (<400 grams/day)
  4. Fruits (<300 grams/day)
  5. Whole grains (<125 grams/day)
  6. Polyunsaturated fats (<11% of energy/day)

Based on these data, a simple approach to a healthy lifestyle would be to simply:

  • Limit salt to no more than 2 grams per day. Avoid processed or pre-packaged foods which tend to be high in salt.
  • Avoid processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, ham, salted and cured meats, smoked meats, canned meats, beef jerky, and dried meats.
  • Avoid beverages with added sugar (and artificial sweeteners based on new studies). Water is still the best stuff on earth!
  • Limit red meat to just 3.5 ounces (100 grams) per week

In addition, it is incredibly important to increase intakes of the following foods:

  • Eat a handful of unsalted nuts and seeds daily or at least 1 ounce serving five days per week.
  • Aim for roughly 8 ounces of fish per week to get the equivalent of 250mg/day of EPA and DHA.
  • Try to get at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits daily.
  • Add one cups of whole grains to your daily diet
  • Lastly, by adding nuts, fish, and flaxseeds to your diet, you will easily get the recommended intake of polyunsaturated fats (>11% of energy/day).

Why this matters:

Knowing what to eat is just as important as knowing what not to eat. This study highlights that simple changes to our everyday diets could play a significant role in our risk of dying from heart disease, diabetes or stroke.

Study Design:

The study used a comparative risk assessment model to look at data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1999-2002 and 2009-2012), meta-analyses of prospective studies and clinical trials, and National Center for Health Statistics. The authors assessed intakes of 10 foods associated with cardiometabolic deaths (heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes).

Key findings:

  • 45.4% (318,656) of the 702,308 cardiometabolic deaths in the United States that occurred in 2012 were associated with suboptimal intakes of 10 foods.
  • Highest CARDIOMETABOLIC DEATHS were associated with:
    • High sodium (66,508 or 9.5%)
    • Low nuts/seeds (59,374 or 8.5%)
    • High processed meats (57,766 or 8.2%)
    • Low seafood omega-3 fats (54,626 or 7.8%)
    • Low vegetables (53,410 or 7.6%)
    • Low fruits (52,547 or 7.5%)
    • High sugar-sweetened beverages (51,694 or 7.4%)
  • Highest deaths due to HEART DISEASE were associated with:
    • Low nuts/seeds (54,591 or 14.7%)
    • Low seafood/omega-3 (54,626 or 14.7%)
    • High processed meats (45,637 or 12.3%)
    • High sugar-sweetened beverages (39,937 or 10.8%)
    • High sodium (37,744 or 10.2%)
  • Highest deaths due to STROKE were associated with:
    • Low vegetables (28,039 or 21.9%)
    • Low fruits (28,741 or 22.4%)
    • High sodium (13,787 or 10.7%)
  • Highest deaths due to HYPERTENSION:
    • High sodium (7505 or 21.4%)
  • Highest deaths due to TYPE 2 DIABETES:
    • High processed meats (11,900 or 17.5%)
    • Low whole grains (11,639 or 17.1%)
    • High sugar-sweetened beverages (10,043 or 14.8%)
  • Suboptimal food intakes were associated with greater deaths in:
    • Men than women
    • Young than older age
    • Blacks and Hispanics than whites
    • Low and medium education than high education


Although the data is very strong and consistent with other studies, it does not prove causality.  Also, the authors relied on self-reported recall that certainly introduces errors.  Lastly, the data points to ranges where intake of foods should be but the optimal intake level could be higher or lower.


Micha R, Peñalvo JL, Cudhea F, et al. Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA. 7 March 2017. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.0947

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Sean Hashmi MD
Articles: 56

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