Healthier Diets Linked To Lower Premature Death Rates In U.S.

Proper nutrition not only boosts your overall health, it is crucial for staving off the many chronic diseases that affect our population today. Thanks to advancements in medical technology, we no longer suffer from many of the infectious diseases that were once leading causes of death. Instead, we find ourselves battling so-called "lifestyle diseases", such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The choices you make every day — from deciding to have a pastry for breakfast instead of a smoothie, to skipping your workout in favor of a Netflix marathon — contribute to the development of these diseases. While these conditions are extremely prevalent, they're also completely preventable. And the best preventative happens to be a healthy diet.

Click here for the 10 Healthy Eating Habits to Pick Up slideshow.

A new study published in the journal Health Affairs stresses the importance of maintaining a good diet. Researchers examined how the American diet evolved between 1992 and 2012, and how that change impacted the rate of premature deaths in the country. They looked at data relating trends in dietary quality to health outcomes in two large cohorts and estimated that healthy eating was responsible for preventing 1.1 million premature deaths during those 20 years. They also found that there were lower cases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer among the participants.

Although this is good news for the health nuts out there, there is a downside. Using a scale of zero to 110, with 110 being the healthiest, the researchers found that most Americans' diets rated below 50. It turns out that healthy eaters are the exception, not the rule. The researchers call for expanded health education initiatives and federal policies to encourage more Americans to adopt a healthier lifestyle. "Policy initiatives are urgently needed to address other healthy eating components to maintain and accelerate improvements in diet," the study authors concluded.

In the interim, you can easily take your health into your own hands by making several lifestyle changes. It takes years for policies to be implemented, but making small modifications every day can have a big impact in your immediate future. Try substituting the sandwich you typically have for lunch with a salad. Carry around a 16-ounce reusable water bottle and commit to drinking and refilling it twice by noon. Prepare and freeze dinners for the week on Sunday and plan to order out as little as possible. Choose one of these ideas and try to put it into action for an entire week. Then, see if you can incorporate another the next week. Before you know it, you will be well on your way to living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

The accompanying slideshow is provided by fellow Daily Meal editorial staff member Lauren Gordon.