Emphasise benefits of a healthy diet, urge doctors
Doctors should promote the powerful benefit of healthy food, rather than focusing on calories and handing out drugs, experts have said.
The rising tide of obesity and unhealthy living should not be ignored but the benefits of medicines to tackle the problem are "exaggerated", they said.
Instead, people should eat a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in oily fish, olive oil and nuts and focus on the nutritional content of food, rather than just calories.
The opinion piece, written in the journal 'Open Heart', said other changes, such as stopping smoking, also had major benefits.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, from Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, James DiNicolantonio, from the Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas in the US, and Professor Simon Capewell, from the University of Liverpool, said research had shown many times over that simple steps could benefit health.
For example, drinking a sugary drink (150 calories) is associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, but a daily handful of nuts (30g of walnuts, 15g of almonds and 15g of hazelnuts) or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (around 500 calories) is associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
They said estimates showed that increasing nut consumption by two servings a week could stave off 90,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease in the US alone.
They added: "An exaggerated belief in the (modest) benefits of pharmacotherapy, aggressively reinforced by commercial vested interests, can often mislead patients and doctors and promotes overtreatment in chronic disease management.
"It may even distract from and undermine the benefits of making simple lifestyle interventions."
They said: "The most powerful and effective policies include taxation on sugary drinks, and subsidies to increase the affordability and availability of healthier foods including nuts, vegetables and fruit.
"It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality."