Sticking to recommended diets lowers risk of chronic disease, finds 32 years of research

Sticking to recommended diets lowers risk of chronic disease, finds 32 years of research

Baseline Spearman’s correlations between energy-adjusted cumulative mean diets and food groups in the pooled data of three cohorts (n = 205,852 participants) Spearman’s correlation coefficients are shown and highlighted in color. Food groups are ordered by the HRs of their associations with major chronic diseases. The associations of food groups (comparing the 90th with the 10th percentile) with severe chronic disease (Chr), severe cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes (T2D), or total cancer (CA) are indicated on the left side of the figure. We reported unadjusted P-values ​​based on two-tailed statistical tests. Significant associations (P < 0.05) are highlighted in color according to the magnitude of the HRs. Credit: Naturopathy (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41591-023-02235-5

Researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, have good news for anyone who adheres to a healthy diet: Good food choices are associated with a lower risk of developing chronic disease.

In a robust review of various recommended diets, the study, “Optimal Diets for Chronic Disease Prevention,” published in the journal Naturopathyfound that meeting any of these criteria is associated with better health outcomes.

To find the influence of recommended diets on health outcomes, researchers analyzed 32 years of data from 205,852 participants ages 25 to 75 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 reported details of their lifestyle, medical history and food intake, with a median follow-up of 26 years per participant. There were 44,975 serious chronic diseases, 12,962 serious cardiovascular diseases, 18,615 diabetes cases and 17,909 cancer cases in total.

Although individuals in the study did not explicitly adhere to the recommended diets, the study categorized reported diets into levels of adherence on a weighted system. It compared health outcomes with levels of compliance across diet 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 Empirical Dietary Inflammation pattern, or World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research diet.

Participants were then ranked by comparing the upper 90th percentile versus the lower 10th percentile in adherence. Overall, the study found that regardless of which diet a person adhered to the most, being near the top of one of them was correlated with a lower risk of disease. For example, a person may make the top 90% in the Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index, but fall below 90% adherence in others due to coffee or wine intake.

Individuals who adhered to guidelines designed to lower the risk of causing inflammation, high blood insulin levels, or diabetes were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Certain food groups were associated with worse health outcomes. Diets that often included processed meat, energy drinks, red meat, French fries and eggs were positively associated with serious chronic disease.

Consuming higher amounts of coffee, whole grains, wine and desserts had a lower risk of associated serious chronic diseases. However, it should be noted that these are drawn from groups of dietary patterns with many associated food intake strategies. Unfortunately there was no choice of coffee, wholemeal, wine and desserts.

More information:
Peilu Wang et al, Optimal dietary patterns for the prevention of chronic diseases, Naturopathy (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41591-023-02235-5

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