The food we choose to consume each day has the potential to promote health and longevity or promote chronic disease and premature death.
The human body is made up of chemicals like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, that join together and form molecules and body structure.
For example, 60-70% of our bone (dry mass) is minerals like calcium and phosphorus.
The food we eat contains chemicals that our body uses to build and maintain the structure.
When we do not give the body the chemicals (through proper nutrition) it needs to maintain and build, dysfunction occurs, and disease can follow.
Let’s take a look at the types of food we need to consume for proper health and longevity, and also the types of foods shown to promote disease and lead to premature death.
Foods that Promote Health and Longevity
Today, we have strong evidence that healthy eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Firstly, this body of evidence consistently points to one specific characteristic shared by the majority of healthy eating patterns; which is the higher intake of vegetables and fruits in the diet.
A 2012 study published in Advances in Nutrition, states that diets high in fruits and vegetables have health-promoting properties, as they contain vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, phytochemicals, and fiber.
When we consume a variety of fruit and vegetables in our diet, we get macronutrients that provide us energy, fiber that helps maintain bowel health and slows the absorption of sugar to improve blood sugar levels, and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables also provide phytochemicals that function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that help to protect the body from damage.
Secondly, whole-grain consumption is also a factor associated with many healthy eating patterns.
A whole-grain food will contain all the edible parts of the grain, such as the bran, germ, and endosperm, which contain nutrients and phytochemicals found to support a healthy body.
A 2016 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that whole-grain intake was associated with reduced risk for heart disease, CVD, cancer, and mortality from all causes like respiratory and infectious diseases, and diabetes.
Finally, nut and seed consumption is a characteristic of healthy eating patterns.
Nuts and seeds are whole food sources of healthy fats that help to maintain brain function, blood cells, and help us fight inflammation to name just a few benefits. These healthy fats also provide fiber, which promotes regular bowel movements to keep the colon healthy, and slows the rate of digestion that supports more stable blood sugar levels.
A 2017 investigative study published in JAMA found that low nut and seed consumption was a leading factor in suboptimal diets that were associated with cardiometabolic disease mortality. In addition to low consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, this study also found low intakes of seafood (like salmon), and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fats) to be associated with death from diseases.
Foods that Promote Chronic Disease and Premature Death
Current research supports the fact that when we consume greater amounts of certain types of food and beverages, our risk for disease increases.
Highly-processed foods can be refined and contain additives meant to support the product's shelf-life.
Refinement: When food is refined (processed), it has some of its natural characteristics removed. For example, when healthy whole-grain is refined, the bran and the germ are removed from the product. These two parts of the whole grain are removed to create a light-textured and shelf-stable product. However, the bran and germ contain valuable fiber and micronutrients that support our health.
A 2015 report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology referenced the cross-sectional CURES 57 study that found higher refined grain intake to be associated with higher waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting glucose, and triglycerides levels as well as increased insulin resistance.
Food additives: Food additives can be from nature like sea salt, or synthetically made like high fructose corn syrup. Additives are meant to maintain or improve the safety, freshness, taste, texture, or appearance of the food product.
A 2013 study published in Global Public Health found that countries with higher availability of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) also had a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Another study published in 2011 found that consumption of beverages sweetened with HFCS increased the risk factors for cardiovascular disease when consumed for two weeks.
Take-away message from the current research
Foods to Consume: Consume a varied, balanced diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, nuts & seeds, as well as legumes, lean meat, and fish.
Foods to Avoid: Avoid the highly-processed convenience foods that contain refined grains, added sugar, and food additives.
Proverbs 3:16 “Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.”
Slavin, J. L., & Lloyd, B. (2012). Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 3(4), 506–516. doi:10.3945/an.112.002154
Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., … Norat, T. (2016). Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 353, i2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716
Micha, R., Peñalvo, J. L., Cudhea, F., Imamura, F., Rehm, C. D., & Mozaffarian, D. (2017). Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA, 317(9), 912–924. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0947
Anand, S. S., Hawkes, C., de Souza, R. J., Mente, A., Dehghan, M., Nugent, R., … Popkin, B. M. (2015). Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System: A Report From the Workshop Convened by the World Heart Federation. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 66(14), 1590–1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050