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Sandwich and Chips Your Go-To Lunch? Here's the Long-Term Cost to Your Health

July 08, 2021

Better rethink that classic lunch combo, sandwich with chips. Eating a Western lunch, defined as red or processed meat, full-fat cheese and highly processed grains (such as white bread), was associated with a 44 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease in a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. And starchy snacks -- that includes potato chips -- after any meal increased risk of death from heart disease by 44 percent to 57 percent and all causes by 50 percent to 52 percent. Participants whose diet included fruits and vegetables were more likely to live longer, more healthy lives:

  • A fruit-dominant lunch: 34 percent reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
  • A vegetable-dominant dinner: 23 percent lower risk of death by cardiovascular disease and a 31 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality.
  • A fruit snack after breakfast: Lower mortality risk of all causes, including cancer.
Researchers analyzed dietary habits of 21,503 Americans in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003-14, with 51 percent of the participants women and all participants at least 30 years old when the study started. Ready to overhaul your diet? Here are some guidelines from Jessica Crandall, a registered dietician at the Hartford Healthcare Heart & Vascular Institute's Center for Advanced Heart Failure:
  1. Drink more water. Water helps as an aid in digestion, and helps to flush bacteria from the bladder, normalizes blood pressure, stabilizes heartbeat, as well as maintaining hydration.
  2. Eat more fiber: Don’t fear carbs! A high-fiber diet helps you feel full, lowers cholesterol, helps control blood sugar levels and maintains bowel health/regularity. Good sources of fiber include whole fruits, vegetables, potatoes (especially the skin), beans/legumes, whole grains (such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, barley, farro and whole grain pasta).
  3. Eat more plants. Purchase whole fruits and vegetables in their natural state and prepare as desired (raw, roasted or sautéed). Include bean/legumes and nuts. Try to include at least one fruit or vegetable with each meal.
  4. Eat enough for breakfast. Think of it as fueling your day! Having a good (as in balanced, with some fiber and protein) breakfast will help control your appetite throughout the rest of the day.
  5. Eat fewer processed foods. Processed meats are high in sodium and usually high in saturated fat. Processed plant-based meats are also high in sodium and often high fat also. Snack foods, sugary cereals and candy are nutritionally void and do not satisfy your hunger. Prepared foods  such as boxed, flavored rice mixes, instant potatoes and canned soups have added sodium.
Diet is only half of the good-health equation. Exercising about 22 minutes daily could reduce your risk of severe illness or death, according to a study earlier this year by researchers and physicians at the Kaiser healthcare system in California who reviewed anonymous records of 48,440 adult patients diagnosed with COVID-19 from January-October 2020. Kaiser had asked all patients to add exercise habits since 2009 as a vital sign, allowing researchers to group men and women by their reported physical activity. The least active were hospitalized almost twice as much and were 2.5  times more likely to die than the most active people, according the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “This is why it’s so important for people to eat healthy, watch their weight, get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, control their blood pressure and not smoke,” says Dr. Stephanie Saucier, a Heart & Vascular Institute Director of the Women's Heart & Wellness Program at Hartford Hospital.