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What is your food pattern?

Do you eat a lot of chicken, pasta, cheese, dressing and oils? Or are you one of those who consume a lot of yogurt with cereal, but stay away from coffee and meat? Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have studied different food patterns and found that some consumption patterns are healthier than others.

The result may perhaps not seem particularly sensational. It seems that what we usually refer to as healthy eating, i.e. a high intake of fibre-rich bread, fruit and vegetables and not a lot of red meat, and sugar-sweetened drinks, can be linked to a lower risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes in both men and women. Men also have a reduced risk of stroke and less pronounced weight gain.

A diet consisting of a high intake of low-fat products such as low-fat margarine, low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt, on the other hand, was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Does this mean that you can’t eat dairy products or drink coffee? It’s OK, you can. What makes this study unique is that the researchers did not look at individual food products and their effects, but how different groups of people eat according to different food patterns. By studying dietary data from 20 487 healthy participants and comparing this with their health status 20 years later, the researchers have drawn the conclusion that some food patterns are healthier than others.


Six different groups

The researchers identified the following six groups of people with different food patterns:

The diet conscious group: A high intake of fibre-rich bread, fruit, vegetables, breakfast cereals, fish and low-fat yogurt, and a low intake of low-fibre bread. For men it also included higher intake of cream and for women a lot of fresh cheese. A low intake of red and processed meat,  and sugar-sweetened drinks was noted in both women and men.

The low-fat group: A high intake of low-fat margarine, low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt, and a low intake of butter.

The dressing and vegetables group: A high intake of polyunsaturated fat in the form of dressing/oil, vegetables, chicken, salty snacks, rice/pasta, fried potatoes and cheese, and a low intake of boiled potatoes, jam and sugar.

The traditionalists’ group: A high intake of eggs, margarine, boiled potatoes, fish, red and processed meat, cream and high-fat milk.

The tea-breakfast group: A high intake of tea, breakfast cereals, jam/sugar, high-fat yogurt, high-fat milk, and a low intake of coffee and red/processed meat.

The sugar group: A high intake of sweets, cookies, ice-cream and sugar-sweetened drinks.


The importance of diet

The men in the “Dressing and vegetables group" also showed a reduced risk of heart attack.

The remaining food patterns showed no link to cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes (traditionalists, tea-breakfast and sugar groups).

However, the women in the “Tea-breakfast group” had gained the least amount of weight at the time of the follow-up.

Those adhering to the  “Diet conscious” food pattern were characterised as being older and more educated, with a higher intake of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fibre and vitamin C, and lower intake of fat and sugar (sucrose). Their lifestyle also involved being more physically active in their spare time and smoking to a lesser degree. However, the women in the group had a higher BMI.

The importance of diet has proved very difficult to study, partly because the research material is often based on self-reported data, and partly because we do not eat individual food products but combinations of foods.

“Our findings show that what we call health conscious food choices corresponds to the European dietary guidelines and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and, in particular, the risk of type 2 diabetes”, says researcher Ulrika Ericson, continuing:

“But if you want to give dietary recommendations to the general population, we must also look at food patterns rather than just individual food products.”

According to Ulrika Ericson, it is the big picture that counts.

“Good eating habits do not necessarily mean completely excluding certain foods, but choosing primarily to eat what is considered healthy, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables”, she says.

The results are published in the European Journal of Nutrition.


Link to the publication:

Food patterns in relation to weight change and incidence of type 2 diabetes, coronary events and stroke in the Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort
European Journal of Nutrition, online 31 May 2018


Ulrika Ericson
Ulrika Ericson
Ulrika Ericson, PhD, nutritionist, researcher, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease – Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Clinical Sciences in Malmö, Lund University, ulrika [dot] ericson [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se, tel: +46 72 981 91 00

Facts/The study

The eating habits were studied in 20 487 people between the ages of 45 and 74, who took part in the study “Malmö Diet Cancer” in the early 1990s. They were followed for up to 20 years and, by then, 2 206 people had type 2 diabetes, 1 571 had experienced a heart attack and 1 332 a stroke. The researchers investigated how the consumption of 33 common food groups was combined to identify different food patterns.

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Lund University Diabetes Centre, CRC, SUS Malmö, Jan Waldenströms gata 35, House 91:12. SE-214 28 Malmö. Telephone: +46 40 39 10 00