Researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, have good news for anyone who sticks to a healthy diet: Good food choices are associated with a lower risk of developing a chronic disease.
In a robust review of several recommended diets, the study, “Optimal dietary patterns for chronic disease prevention,” published in the journal Medicine in Naturefound that engaging in any of these was linked to better performance health outcome.
To find the influence of recommended diets on health outcomes, researchers analyzed 32 years of data from 205,852 participants between 25 and 75 years old when data collection began. The cohorts included 162,667 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study II and 43,185 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
Participants regularly report details about their lifestyle, medical history and food intake, with a median follow-up of 26 years per participant. There were 44,975 major chronic disease events observed, 12,962 major cardiovascular disease, 18,615 diabetes cases and 17,909 total cancers.
While the individuals in the study did not explicitly follow the recommended diets, the study categorized the reported diets into levels of adherence on a weighted system. It compared health outcomes against adherence levels in several dietary pattern groups: Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010, Alternate Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, Diabetes Risk Reduction Diet, Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index , reversed Empirical Dietary Index for hyperinsulinemia, reversed pattern of Empirical Dietary Inflammation, or World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research diet.
Participants were then ranked by comparing the top 90th percentile versus the bottom 10th percentile in adherence. Overall, the study found that regardless of which diet pattern an individual adhered to most, being near the top of any of them was associated with lower disease risk. So, for example, an individual may score in the top 90% on the Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index but fall below 90% due to drinking coffee or alcohol.
Individuals who follow guidelines designed to lower the risk of developing inflammation, high blood insulin levels or diabetes are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Certain food groups have been linked to worse health outcomes. Diets that often include processed meats, energy drinksred meat, french friesand eggs are positively associated with major chronic diseases.
Consuming greater amounts of coffee, whole grains, alcohol and desserts has a lower risk of associated major chronic diseases. However, it should be noted that these are obtained from groups of dietary patterns with many related food intake strategies. Unfortunately, there is no coffee, whole grain, wine and dessert-based food to choose from.
Peilu Wang et al, Optimal dietary patterns for chronic disease prevention, Medicine in Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41591-023-02235-5
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