They used published studies on the benefits or drawbacks of each of the 10 foods to figure out just how much each one contributes to the risk of death from heart disease.
By their calculations, eating too much sodium (more than 2,000 mg a day) accounted for 9.5 percent of the deaths. Eating too few nuts (less than about a handful a day) accounted for 8.5 percent of deaths; eating too much processed meat accounted for 8.2 percent of deaths; eating too little seafood was responsible for 7.8 percent of the deaths.
“These results should help identify priorities, guide public health planning, and inform strategies to alter dietary habits and improve health,” they wrote.
They left out monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, antioxidant vitamins, dairy products, cocoa, coffee, and tea because they could not find enough evidence to assign a specific value to their benefits.
And the effects varied by age group, sex and ethnicity. In adults under 65, too many sweet drinks and processed meat were the biggest killers. For people over 65, eating too much salt and too few nuts and veggies were the culprits.
Blacks and Hispanics were more strongly affected by the dietary factors than whites, the researchers found — especially when it came to sweet drinks. “Overall, suboptimal diet was associated with 53.1 percent of total estimated cardiometabolic deaths among blacks, 50 percent among Hispanics, and 42.8 percent among whites,” they wrote.