Five Eating Habits That May Shorten Your Life

Are you trying to change your diet to lose a few pounds? You may be missing something.

Consider these study results:

  • A long-range study that examined the eating habits of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years found that eating red meat—any amount and any type—significantly increased risk of premature death. Worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, like hot dogs and bacon, increased risk of death by 20 percent.
  • A study examining the association between healthy lifestyle habits and mortality in over 11,000 people found that healthy lifestyle habits, including eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily, were associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of body mass index.
  • A Greek study looking at diet and overall mortality found that a diet low in saturated fat, high in “good” fats (like those from olive oil), high in complex carbs like those from whole grains, and high in fiber, mostly from vegetables and fruits, increased overall survival.

What can we glean from these studies? What you eat may not only influence your waistline, but your lifeline.

1. Caving Into Fast Food

Okay, it’s time to do some honest self-evaluation. How often do you cave and order fast food? You may think you opt only for the occasional drive-thru cheeseburger, but to get a realistic assessment, you probably should keep a daily diet diary for a couple weeks, even a month.

Fast food not only has questionable sources of meat, but is likely to contain high levels of artery-clogging fat, which can contribute to heart disease and diabetes. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that young people who ate a lot of fast food while growing up were more likely to have a higher weight, larger waist circumference, higher triglyceride levels, and lower HDL “good” cholesterol at age 20 than those who didn’t.

Research also shows that a high intake of fast food means a low intake of fruits and vegetables—so you’re missing out on health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Those neighborhoods that have more fast-food restaurants have a 13 percent higher risk of stroke than neighborhoods with the fewest fast-food restaurants.

2. Eating Too Much Sugar

Again, a little is probably not going to hurt you, but sugar is addictive, and for many people, a little is never enough. We’re still learning about the effect of sugar on health, but one 2008 study found that diets high in sugar stimulated changes in the heart that accelerate the development of heart failure. Another 10-year study from the University of Maryland found that women who got most of their calories from high-fat dairy foods or from sweets and desserts had a 40 percent higher risk of death. A lot of sugar is also bad for your skin, as it gloms onto protein molecules, slowing down the body’s repair system.

3. Eating Too Many Refined Carbs

Some carbohydrates are good for you, but refined carbs have been stripped of the healthy stuff, so they quickly turn to sugar in your bloodstream, spiking blood sugar levels and setting you up for insulin resistance. Refined carbs include table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sweetened fruit juice, soft drinks, white flour and anything made from it, most packaged cereals, pretzels, potato chips, candy bars, etc. (Good carbs, on the other hand, take longer to break down, and include whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits).

Studies show that a diet high in refined carbs can create high blood sugar, which can increase risk of coronary heart disease. A steady diet of refined carbs can also increase risk of type II diabetes.

4. Waiting Until You’re Starving to Eat

Did you know that eating more often can actually help you lose weight? According to a 2011 study, people of normal weight eat more frequently (five times a day on average) than people who are overweight. Even though they ate more often, the people of normal weight consumed fewer calories. Why would this be?

Researchers theorize that when you wait too long to eat, your body releases more of the appetite hormone called “ghrelin.” Unfortunately, it takes 20-30 minutes for ghrelin levels to return to normal, so it’s likely you’ll overeat before that happens, stuffing yourself and leading to weight gain. Of course, we all know that overweight and obesity increases risk for all sorts of diseases and life-threatening conditions.

On the other hand, keeping a little food in your stomach keeps your energy levels more even and helps keep ghrelin levels low.

5. Eating While You’re Doing Something Else

Studies have shown that eating while watching television, for example, leads to obesity. While your mind is on the show, it’s less likely to focus on bodily cues that say you’re full, so you tend to keep chomping mindlessly, leading to weight gain. Eating while you’re stressed—such as on your morning commute through traffic or at the office—is even worse. The stress hormone adrenaline tends to hinder your digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients while suppressing the body’s repair processes—all of which can lead to premature aging.

The solution to all this? Make eating a priority. Stop, make healthy choices, and enjoy what you eat. It’s one of the best things you can do to increase your odds of enjoying a long, healthy life.

How do you make healthy eating a priority? Have you changed your habits lately? Please share your story.

Picture courtesy jasecd via Flickr.com.

Sources

Eryn Brown, “All red meat is risky, a study finds,” LA Times, March 13, 2012, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/13/health/la-he-red-meat-20120313.

Eric M. Matheson, et al., “Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals,” J Am Board Fam Med, January-February 2012, vol.25 (1): 9-15, http://www.jabfm.org/content/25/1/9.full.

Antonia Trichopoulou, et al., “Diet and overall survival in elderly people,” British Medical Journal, December 2, 1995, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2543726/pdf/bmj00621-0015.pdf.

Linda Wasmer Andrews, “Adages for a Fast-Food Age,” Psychology Today, August 6, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201008/adages-fast-food-age.

Naveen Sharma, et al., “High-sugar diets increase cardiac dysfunction and mortality in hypertension compared to low-carbohydrate or high-starch diets,” J Hypertens, 2008 July; 26(7): 1402-1410, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3103886/.

“Highest Mortality Risk Seen with High-Fat Dairy and High Sugar Intake,” NixonElite.com, http://nixonelite.com/highest-mortality-risk-high-fat-dairy-high-sugar-intake/.

Simin Liu, et al., “A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. women,” Am J Clin Nutr, June 2000, vol 71, no. 6, 1455-1461, http://www.ajcn.org/content/71/6/1455.full.

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