The vast majority of eating plans revolve around striking certain foods from the menu. No sugar, no processed foods, no foods at all after 8 p.m., and on, and on (and on). But according to a 27-year worldwide diet analysis recently published in the journal Lancet, restricting the ingredients on our plates isn’t nearly as important as making sure that whole grains, fruit, fiber, healthy fats, and veggies are there in the first place.
To reach this conclusion, CNN reports that lead study researcher Ashkan Afshin, MD, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, studied the effect of 15 dietary risk factors on both disability and death. His team analyzed diets high in foods linked with poor health—like red meat, sugar, trans-fats, and salt—alongside those with sparse amounts of wholesome foods.
The results concluded that those “bad for you foods” (aside from salt) actually ranked towards the bottom of the risk factors. But here’s the real kicker: Of the top three nutrition-related deaths in the year 2017, two were a result of not eating enough of a certain food group. Namely, people were majorly under-eating whole grains and fruit.
Of the top three nutrition-related deaths in the year 2017, two were a result of not eating enough of a certain food group. Namely, people were majorly under-eating whole grains and fruit.
High risk factors identified in the analysis also varied greatly depending on geographical location. In America and nine other countries, a diet low in whole grains was the greatest concern. But there’s an important distinction between “whole” grains and other varieties, according to Andrew Reynolds, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at New Zealand’s University of Otago.
“Whole grains are being included in ultra-processed products that may be finely milled down and have added sodium, added free sugars, and added saturated fats,” he says. “I think we all need to be aware of this and not confuse the benefits from the more intact, minimally processed whole grains with what is often advertised as whole-grain products available today.” Rebekah Blakely, RDN, registered nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe, recommends reaching for breads of the sprouted or 100 percent whole wheat variety, along with brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
If you think about food in this way, you’ll spend the whole day just choosing foods you like to help you get the nutrients you need. — Rebekah Blakely, RDN, registered nutritionist
Dr. Afshin says the results couldn’t possibly be more clear (or actionable, for that matter): Next time you’re filling your grocery cart, remember: Fueling your body correctly is far more about addition than subtraction. “I have always favored talking about what you can eat versus what you cannot,” says Blakely. “Throughout the day, think about what foods you haven’t had enough of. Have you had five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables today? If not, what fruit or vegetable sounds good?”
Not only will the subtle shift in mindset keep your eyes on the prize (make meals that are abundant rather than restricted), it will also better your relationship with mealtime in general. “If you think about food in this way, you’ll spend the whole day just choosing foods you like to help you get the nutrients you need,” says Blakely. Sounds like the dream to me.
Let’s get ahead on our whole grains and fruit consumption right now. Here’s how to make Meghan Markle’s banana bread and how to turn Trader Joe’s dehydrated strawberries into the dessert of your dreams.
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