Staples of the traditional British diet, such as white bread, butter and fruit juice, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, new research has warned.
Scientists from the University of Oxford have identified the specific foods and beverages, rather than the nutrients found within them, that could be linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
The experts said that more people needed to be aware of the dangers posed by sugar, which can lead to weight gain and potential heart problems.
“Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK and poor diet is a major contributor to this,” Dr Carmen Piernas, a nutritionist at Oxford who was a corresponding author on the study, said.
“The most common dietary guidelines are based on the nutrients found in foods rather than foods themselves and this can be confusing for the public.
“Our findings help identify specific foods and beverages that are commonly eaten in Britain and that may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.”
The analysis, which has been published in the journal BMC Medicine, found two specific types of diet were linked to an increased risk of death for middle-aged adults.
One was high in chocolate, confectionary, butter and white bread but low in fresh fruit and vegetables, while the other was high in fizzy drinks, fruit juice, chocolate, confectionary, table sugar and preserves but low in butter and high-fat cheese.
The research also found that those who ate more chocolate, confectionary, butter and white bread were more likely to be male, younger and from poorer backgrounds.
They also tended to be smokers, less physically active, living with obesity or had high blood pressure.
However, participants who consumed fizzy drinks, fruit juice and preserves had an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality, even though they tended to be physically active and less likely to be smokers or living with obesity.
Participants, who were recruited to the UK Biobank project between 2006 and 2010, reported meals and snacks during the previous 24 hours on two to five occasions.
The researchers then identified the nutrients and foods eaten, with incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality calculated using hospital admission and death registry records until 2017 and 2020, respectively.
“Our research suggests eating less chocolate, confectionery, butter, low-fibre bread, sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice, table sugar and preserves could be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease or death during middle-age,” Dr Piernas added.
“This is consistent with previous research which has suggested that eating foods that contain less sugar and fewer calories may be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”
She said the findings from the study could be used to create food-based dietary advice to help people eat more healthily and reduce their risk of mortality.
However, the study authors noted that the observational nature of the research could not prove a causal relationship between diet, cardiovascular disease and mortality.
It was also noted that dietary data might not be representative of participants’ lifetime diets due to it being collected from individual 24-hour assessments rather than over a continuous period of time.
Additional reporting by agencies