A recent report indicates that ten foods account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the United States. Researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy found that if people ate less salt and meat, and ate more nuts, fruits, and vegetables, they could greatly lower the risk of heart disease.

The researchers at Tufts developed their list of preferred foods from national surveys, which covered 16,000 people from 1999-2012. Volunteers filled out food diaries, and were tracked for several years subsequently, to see what had happened with their health. In 2012, the team wrote that over 700,000 Americans died of cardiovascular disease. Of these deaths, an estimated 45 percent were associated with ‘suboptimal intakes of the 10 dietary factors,’ states the report—published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The team used previously published studies surrounding the benefits or drawbacks of each of the 10 foods, in order to determine how much each one contributes to the risk of death from heart disease. Their calculations suggest that eating too much sodium accounted for 9.5 percent of the deaths; eating too few nuts accounted for 8.5 percent of the deaths; eating too much processed meat accounted for 8.2 percent of the deaths; and eating too little seafood was responsible for 7.8 percent of the deaths.

For decades, the American Heart Association has stressed that food is a critical factor in preventing the country’s primary cause of death. Many studies have previously demonstrated that Americans eat far too much meat, cheese, processed grains, sugar, and salt. Studies also confirm the health effects of the consumption of a daily handful of nuts, in addition to eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; diets rich in these foods also lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. This study’s results should help identify priorities, guide public health planning, and inform strategies to alter dietary habits and improve health.

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