Israel has the lowest rate of diet-related deaths in the world, a major analysis of dietary data from around the world has revealed.
The analysis, part of the Global Burden of Disease study, was published in the respected medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday.
In Israel, it reported, just 89 people out of every 100,000 die each year in deaths related to poor-quality diet.
That’s different from obesity, say the researchers, as these are deaths not from overeating, but from nutritional imbalance in the diet — too much salt, or too few fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Alongside Israel in the healthiest-diet category are France, Italy and other northern Mediterranean countries.
The worst-afflicted nations are concentrated in central and southeastern Asia. Uzbekistan had the highest rate of diet-related deaths: 892 per 100,000 people a year, or ten times Israel’s rate.
A report in the BBC on the study noted the finding that some 10 million of the 11 million deaths each year attributed to diet were from cardiovascular diseases, or diseases caused by the narrowing or blocking of blood vessels, often in or near the heart or brain.
Those diseases are heavily influenced by high amounts of salt in the diet, which can cause spikes in blood pressure, as well as directly affecting the functioning of the heart.
The last million deaths are from cancers and type-2 diabetes linked to diet.
According to the Lancet article, diet is now a bigger killer worldwide than smoking, and salt is the single biggest factor in diet-related deaths.
The study also pinpointed the key elements of a healthy diet that not only prevents those deaths, but can actually actively protect consumers’ bodies from the illnesses measured: nuts, seeds, seafood, fiber, fruits and vegetables.
Lack of those foods is a more significant predictor of diet-related illness and death than over-consumption of sugar and red meat, which gets most of the dietary attention.
“Diet quality matters no matter what weight you are,” Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told the BBC about the report.
“The really big story for people to act on is increase your whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetable intake and reduce salt if you can.”
The report noted that in some poorer countries, the elements of a healthy diet are too expensive for many people to access, and urged policy changes to improve that access. It also advocated changes to the food supply chain in the West to ensure better foods are available more cheaply to a larger cross-section of the population.