A suboptimal diet has been ranked as the leading risk factor for total global deaths and the second-leading risk factor for global disease burden, but it was only now that scientists could accurately calculate the total health impact of replacing one food with another in the diet.
This study used a novel approach to analyze the health impact of replacing red and processed meat with fish so its intake matched the recommended weekly amount of 350 grams of fish.
The results of the calculations showed that 134 life-years per 100,000 could be saved per year by this dietary change, without increasing iron insufficiency risks. This would be equivalent to gaining up to 7,000 healthy years of life annually if the entire Danish population were to make the change, as well as the prevention of around 179 deaths per year from coronary disease.
The key to getting the greatest health benefits would be to only eat fatty fish, such as herring, anchovy, and mackerel, or a mixture of fatty and lean fish, such as plaice and pollock. The smallest health gains would be achieved by eating only lean fish because fatty fish is higher in beneficial fatty acids. Health loss would come about if tuna was the only type of fish consumed because it is both low in fatty acids and high in the contaminant and powerful neurotoxin methylmercury. According to the study, the benefits will be most felt by women of childbearing age because the fish will help in the development of their unborn children, as well as men, who are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
This new approach to calculating the health effects of interventions may be useful when developing official dietary guidelines
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