Eating a healthier diet—including more vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds—could prevent nearly half of all heart disease deaths. This would translate into 2.1 million fewer heart deaths across Europe, and more than 300,000 in the US, every year.
A bad diet dwarfs all the other causes of CVD, such as smoking, stress and a lack of exercise, say researchers from the Martin Luther University in Germany.
They analysed 26 years of data on diets and rates of CVD of 51 countries across Europe but couldn't see a connection to eating saturated fats from dairy and meat. Instead, they discovered the disease was caused by a combination of eating too few healthy foods, and too much processed food and drink.
Specifically, CVD deaths were linked to diets that were low in fibre—such as from fruits and vegetables—legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, nuts and seeds, omega-3 fatty acids from fish and whole grains, but were high in processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks and trans fatty acids.
The make-up of an average diet varied between the 51 countries; a lack of nuts and seeds was the strongest association to heart disease in Sweden and Norway, while central European countries suffered more from eating too few whole grains.
A poor diet affected men and women differently. Younger men were more likely to suffer from CVD as a result of a poor diet, whereas women were more susceptible only after they reached the age of 50.