According to a major new study, unhealthy diets are responsible for 11 million preventable deaths globally per year, more even than smoking tobacco.
The study, published in The Lancet, revealed that in nearly every one of the 195 countries surveyed, people were eating too much of the wrong types of food and not enough of the healthier stuff.
What’s more the research found that eating and drinking better could prevent a whopping one in five deaths around the world.
“This study affirms what many have thought for several years – that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world,” said study author Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
“Our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium, or low intake of health foods”.
But there were plenty of other diet mistakes that came out of the research.
Too much sugar
Time to go sugar-less or even free? The research found that people, on average, consume more than 10 times the recommended amount of sugar-sweetened beverages, and 86% more sodium per person than is considered safe.
It follows further research earlier this year which found that drinking just one fizzy drink a day significantly increases your risk of heart disease.
We’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables
According to researchers the biggest problem with our diets is not the junk we’re eating but the nutritious food we’re not eating.
The study, also warned that too many people were eating far too few whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
While sugar and trans-fats are obviously harmful to our health, the study found that more deaths are actually caused by a lack of healthy foods in our diet.
Researchers are now calling for a global move to encourage people to up their intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes.
“It’s important to eat vegetables, especially cruciferous colourful varieties as they are full of life enhancing micronutrients, antioxidants and fibre,” explains Nutritionist Alix Woods.
“Together these micronutrients, antioxidants and fibre improve overall health and help protect us from terminal illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.”
Too much salt
The research found that a diet rich in sodium (salt) could be attributed to three million deaths.
Too much salt raises blood pressure and that in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Excessive salt consumption is already known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease – especially high blood pressure, myocardial infarction and stroke, but a recent study, published in the Annals of Medicine also linked salt intake with the risk of developing a common heart condition known as Atrial fibrillation (AF).
Too much red meat
Love a good steak? It could be time to cut down. According to the report the global population should be eating roughly half as much red meat (as well as upping our intake of fruit and veg) in order to avert a worldwide obesity epidemic.
Prof Walter Willett from Harvard University, a co-author of the study, said that the findings were consistent with a recently published analysis of the benefits for cardiovascular health of replacing red meat with plant sources of protein.
“Adoption of diets emphasising soy foods, beans and other healthy plant sources of protein will have important benefits for both human and planetary health,” he said.
The research follows a further study released earlier this year revealing that meat consumption needs to be reduced to just 7g a day in order to save the planet and reduce premature deaths.
While research last year found eating a diet high in red meat could increase levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical generated in the gut and linked to a higher risk of heart disease.