According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 74% of all deaths globally and of these 77% are in the low- and middle-income countries. In India, the rate of death by NCDs grew from 38% in 1990 to 66% in 2022. The causes of NCDs are many and varied; some are environmental like air pollution, some are genetic, and some are behavioural. The four major NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs), and diabetes, all of which share four behavioural risk factors: unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco and alcohol. In this article, Dr Meghana Pasi, Nutrition Consultant, MyThali, Arogya World shares how your diet influences the risk of non communicable diseases.
Food is crucial for our health since it provides us with energy and essential nutrients for our well-being and health. However, unhealthy eating habits are a major modifiable behavioural risk factor for NCDs. They lead to the occurrence of a group of illnesses known as the metabolic syndrome - obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and impaired metabolism of glucose or insulin. The existence of these metabolic syndrome raises the risk of NCDs.
Diet and its impact on NCDs
Dr Pasi explains, “There is immense research conducted globally to understand the impact of eating behaviours on health. Over the last century, a significant change in lifestyle habits have been seen all across the globe. However, this change is not shown in genetic makeup which causes an imbalance between consumption of calories and expenditure of energy. This causes overweight and obesity, in the long run. According to some studies, there has been a significant increase in the consumption of animal products such as meat and dairy. Increased consumption of energy-dense foods, together with a sedentary lifestyle and increased mental stress, is an ideal condition for the development of many NCDs.”
- Diets high in added sugars, commonly found in sugary beverages, candies, and processed foods, can lead to insulin resistance, inflammation, and weight gain.
- Over time, excessive sugar intake can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- High salt/sodium intake can lead to elevated blood pressure, which is a significant risk factor for hypertension and heart disease.
- Diets low in fibre, which is found in foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can contribute to digestive disorders and increase the risk of colorectal cancer and obesity.
- Poor dietary choices that lack essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of various NCDs.
How to minimise the risk of NCDs
It's important to emphasise that the relationship between food and NCDs is complex and it is also influenced by various factors, including genetics, physical activity, and overall lifestyle. Hence, there is a need to create awareness on eating clean and eating healthy. Here are some suggestion by Dr Pasi:
- A diet rich in essential nutrients obtained from a variety of food groups can definitely help in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and inturn reduce NCDs.
- Consuming fruits and vegetables provides antioxidants that can protect against cell damage and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
- Reducing consumption of processed foods loaded with sugar, salt, saturated and trans fats can help mitigate the risk of NCDs.
Dr Pasi concludes by advising to practise portion control, choosing minimally processed foods and keeping regular meal timings can further reduce the potential health risks.