"This study affirms what many have thought for several years - that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world", said study author Dr Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
In fact, more than half of all global diet-related deaths in 2017 were due to just three risk factors: eating too much salt, not enough whole grains and not enough fruit.
Consuming low amounts of healthy foods, such as whole grains, and too much unhealthy foods, including sweetened beverages, account for one in every five deaths globally.
The authors justified this conclusion because, they said, people tended to miss their targets for good foods (fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables) more than they exceeded the recommended limits for bad ones (sugar, fatty meats).
In comparison, tobacco was associated with 8.0 million deaths, and high blood pressure was linked to 10.4 million deaths.
Researchers say the results underline the need for more effective food education campaigns around the world.
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But as cuisine and culinary attiudes vary across the world, different countries have different rates of diet related deaths.
Uzbekistan had the highest rate of diet-related deaths, at 892 per 100,000.
The largest and most problematic shortfalls in optimal intake were recorded for nuts and seeds, milk, whole grains.
Co-authors are: Gang Liu, Ph.D.; Ambika Satija, Sc.D.; Yanping Li, Ph.D.; Qi Sun, M.D., Sc.D.; Teresa T. Fung, Sc.D.; Eric B. Rimm, Sc.D.; Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H.; Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D.; and Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Ph.D. So, she said that "diet is a risk factor for everybody".
The study found people ate only 12% of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds - an average intake of 3 grams a day, compared with the recommended 21grams - and drank more than 10 times the recommended amount of sugary drinks.
"Over a period of time, consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, while decreasing your intake of refined grains, candies and desserts, and animal foods such as animal fat meat, and miscellaneous animal-based foods, may lower your risk of death from heart disease and other causes", Baden said. Environmental sustainability must also be considered in improving agriculture systems, the report notes, including impacts on climate change, biodiversity, land and water usage.
"Thus, adoption of diets emphasizing soy foods, beans and other healthy plant sources of protein will have important benefits for both human and planetary health", he said.