“Perhaps the importance of this study is to stop talking about sugar and fat and start talking about chocolate, confectionary [candy], white bread, butter, high-fat cheese,” Piernas said. “That’s what we need to tell people. If they have a diet which is high in these things and low in fruits and vegetables,” they are more likely to develop heart disease and die early.
Here’s why: “Primarily, these bad diets make them gain weight,” putting them at risk of heart disease.
This study involved people from Britain, so the findings might differ in other parts of the world, Piernas said.
Participants whose diets were higher in chocolate, candy, butter and white bread were more likely to be younger males who smoked. Compared to people whose diets did not include these foods in large quantities, they also tended to be less active, obese and have high blood pressure.
Those who favored a diet high in sweetened drinks and preserves had a higher risk for heart disease and death even though they were more active and less likely to smoke, be obese or have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, the study found.
Other foods that have been touted as less healthy — such as breaded fried fish, savory snacks and processed and red meats — also appear in this study but contributed to a lesser degree, Piernas said.
The data comes from 24-hour assessments and may not be representative of participants’ lifetime eating habits, researchers said. Future research could probe the potential reasons for the links.
The findings were published online April 21 in BMC Medicine.
Whitney Linsenmeyer, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reviewed the findings.
“A diet high in refined carbohydrate with the white bread, high in saturated fat, high in added sugar, it does hit all of those red flags that are very well supported by research,” she said.
It can be scary for people to think about specific foods in terms of poor health outcomes or even death, said Linsenmeyer, who is also an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University in Missouri.