Summer 2017

10 Foods with Life-or-Death Consequences

A study puts a shocking number on the cost of a bad diet.

A study by Renata Micha and colleagues put a shocking number on the cost of a bad diet: Eating too much (or too little) of just 10 foods accounts for about 320,000 deaths each year in the U.S. from heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Here are the foods the researchers identified and some advice about consuming them.


SODIUM Accounting for more than 66,500 deaths per year, mostly from heart disease, excess sodium is the worst offender on the list. Intake should be limited to 2,000 mg per day, but the average adult consumes more than 3,400 mg.

PROCESSED MEATS Foods like bacon and salami were associated with nearly 58,000 deaths—and that’s not counting their links to cancer.

SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES Tied to nearly 52,000 deaths per year overall, the numbers get even worse when you drill down: The proportion of deaths is twice as high in blacks as in whites, and sweet drinks are linked to more than a quarter of the deaths among ages 25 to 45.

RED MEAT You may have expected it to top the list, but it was associated with a relatively small percent of deaths, 0.4.


NUTS AND SEEDS Don’t skip these nutritional powerhouses—snacking on just a handful a day could save 59,500 lives per year.

SEAFOOD Two weekly servings of fatty fish like salmon will give you the heart protective Omega-3s you need. Too little consumption is linked to nearly 55,000 deaths.

VEGETABLES No surprise here—Americans need to eat more of them.

FRUITS Just as important as veggies: Low consumption of both accounted for nearly 106,000 deaths.

WHOLE GRAINS Aim for two and a half servings per day (and ditch the white bread).

POLYUNSATURATED FATS Choosing good fats (like vegetable oil) rather than saturated ones (like palm oil) could save 16,000 lives a year.

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