One of the largest ever scientific reviews looking at associations between food and beverages and the risk of diet-related disease has reinforced the fundamental nutrition keys to good health.
Diet plays a big part in health. As the typical western diet moved to more overly refined and energy dense foods, rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes mirrored this change. Among all the competing voices on what foods and nutrients are best and worst for our health, there is some common ground that all camps can agree on. The need to eat more minimally processed plant-based foods, and less processed foods high in sugar is one such theme.
Taking a step back from the recent trend to demonise particular foods and nutrients as the cause of all of our health ills, a major scientific review has taken things back to basics to reinforce where the best health gains are to be found with diet.
A no small undertaking, the review looked at the diet and chronic disease links from 304 meta-analyses and systematic reviews published in the last 63 years. Type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease together accounted for most of the chronic disease links found.
As for dietary patterns, the findings showed that plant-based foods were more protective against the risk of developing chronic disease compared to animal-based foods. Amongst plant foods, grain-based foods seemed to have a small edge over fruits and vegetables. So much for the anti-grain sentiment that is popular at the moment.
For animal-based foods, dairy products overall were considered neutral on health and fish was considered protective. Red and processed meats were linked to a higher disease risk.
For tea lovers, the research confirmed this popular drink as being the most protective against disease risk. On the other end of the spectrum, to no one’s surprise, soft drinks had few redeeming health benefits.
What it all means
The findings from this major review are close to a carbon copy of existing dietary guidelines that have changed little over decades. Eat more plant-based foods than animal foods, choose wholegrains over refined grains, limit red and processed meat and choose other beverages in preference to soft drink. Such recommendations may not get media attention, or help sell books in numbers like the latest fad diet, but they are the cornerstone of long-term health.
Author: Associate Professor Tim Crowe