Research suggests: We are what we eat, not what we weigh

According to researchers in Sweden, overweight people who eat a healthy diet have a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those with unhealthy diets, suggesting the need for a shift in focus towards healthy eating.

The longitudinal cohort study by Karl Michaëlsson of Uppsala University, Sweden, and colleagues, which was published in PLOS Medicine, looked at body mass index (BMI), diet and mortality among 79,003 Swedish adults enrolled in the Swedish Mammography Cohort and Cohort of Swedish Men.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet (mMED) was assessed on a scale of 0 to 8, integrating information on intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, unrefined or high-fibre grains, fish, red and processed meat, and olive oil.

Information was also available on age, physical activity, smoking and socioeconomics of the cohort participants.

The researchers found that among overweight participants, the group with the lowest risk of all-cause mortality were those with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean-like diet. Furthermore, obese individuals who also had a high adherence to the Mediterranean-like diet did not have a significantly higher mortality compared to those with normal weight who also adhered to the Mediterranean-like diet.

Conversely, the research also found that participants who were within a healthy weight range but who had a poor adherence to the Mediterranean-like diet had a higher mortality rate.

While the results suggest the need to take into account healthy eating when counselling on diet and lifestyle risk factors for reducing cardiovascular disease, the authors caution that being overweight still carries health risks.

The authors conclude: “These results indicate that adherence to healthy diets such as a Mediterranean-like diet may be a more appropriate focus that avoidance of obesity for the prevention of overall mortality.

“Nonetheless, a healthy diet may not completely counter higher CVD mortality related with obesity.”

To read the study, visit: journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003331

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