The Diet That Can Make You ill: The Western Diet
Recently, the Washington Post published an article entitled, “Coming soon to a doctor’s office near you: Prescriptions for vegetables”.
It is true that foods have an incredible impact on our health. Unfortunately, while the right foods may help cure our illnesses, the wrong foods may actually cause them.
This is seen in the ever prevalent paradox of obesity and malnutrition. Although these may sound like opposites, they often coexist. You see, malnutrition simply means “poor nutrition”. Essentially, many people are eating high quantities of low quality food.
A prime example of this is what scientists call The Western Diet
If you want to increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes, then the Western Diet is for you! The Western Diet is not the latest fad diet; in this case, diet just describes an eating pattern, not an attempt to lose weight.
The Western Diet is a diet high in the three S’s: Sugar, Sodium, Saturated fat.
Also known as the meat-sweet diet, The Western Diet typically includes lots of processed or packaged food and is lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. Sound familiar?
This is essentially the epitome of the typical American diet. Think cereal, Poptarts, bacon, sausage, donuts, white bread, lunch meat, mayonnaise, potato chips, burgers, fries, buffalo wings, fried chicken, frozen meals, the list goes on…
We do know better!
It doesn’t take a nutritional expert to tell you that the list above is not exactly a list of “healthy” foods. Yet so many people still choose to eat the wrong foods.
For most people, this is not because they simply do not care about their health. It is not as if someone goes to grab a soda from a vending machine and thinks, “I don’t mind getting diabetes as long as I get to have my Coke.” Of course one soda will not automatically destroy your health. However, it’s the failure to make the connection between diet and our health that has left around 70 million Americans with high blood pressure, and around 22 million with Diabetes.
We need to start thinking past the $1.25 listed on the vending machine, and start evaluating the cost on our health.
What are the The Three S’s?
Let’s take a look at each of the three S’s individually.
Sugar. You don’t necessarily have to be consuming soda and sweets to be consuming too much sugar. Added sugar is often found in bread, cereals, granola bars, peanut butter, oatmeal, yogurt, ketchup, barbecue sauce and even salad dressing.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that Type 2 Diabetes is caused by excess sugar consumption. Rather, more sugar consumption means high calorie intake and this leads to weight gain. Excess weight may contribute to a phenomenon called “insulin resistance”.
Insulin is a hormone that is released after a meal and tells the body, “Your blood sugar is high, and you need to store some of that sugar”. In many overweight people, insulin stops listening to the body’s signals, so the body must produce more and more insulin to control blood sugar.
Eventually, the body can’t keep up and blood sugar can’t be controlled. This is the point when people are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and begin having to closely monitor their blood sugar, take insulin, and limit their carbohydrate consumption.
Having chronically high levels of sugar floating around in the blood can increase risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease, among other health complications.
Sodium. Technically what we know as table salt, is Sodium Chloride, but for our purposes, think of sodium as salt. Sodium is so commonly added to foods, that many people are virtually immune to its taste. A food may not taste salty at all, but it may still contain a significant amount of sodium.
Just a small cup of ramen noodles has over 1,000 mg of sodium, about half of our daily allowance. Sodium may increase blood pressure in the same way that high blood sugar does. Whether it’s too much sugar or too much sodium floating around in the blood, the body will sense the high concentration of these molecules, and hold onto water in attempt to dilute it. When the body retains water, blood pressure rises.
Saturated fat. The word ‘fat’ tends to have a negative connotation, but the truth is, we need to eat fat in order to survive. However not all fats are created equal.
It has long been believed that saturated fat may contribute to heart disease. Although there is conflicting research on this topic, Americans tend to get most of their fat from meat and dairy, and they do not get enough of their heart healthy plant fats.
Olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado are all excellent sources of a type of fat called omega-3s. These types of fats may actually help to lower cholesterol levels and protect us from heart disease. Does that mean everyone needs to ditch meat and dairy and become a vegan? No. Just replace some of those saturated fats for heart healthy plant fats.
Now you see how an excess of the three S’s in the Western Diet can lead to illness.
However let’s not ignore the flip side of the Western Diet. Not only does the Western Diet contribute to illness because of what it provides in excess, it is equally dangerous because of what it lacks.
This goes back to the idea of malnutrition; the Western Diet does not provide the vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function.
Humans need 13 different vitamins and 16 different minerals
We call these micronutrients. Whether it is boosting our immune system, healing our wounds, giving us energy, strong bones, or healthy skin, all of these micronutrients play a crucial role. A deficiency in any of these 29 micronutrients could have serious health consequences.
Magnesium. Foods rich in magnesium include: dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Not foods that we see a whole lot of in the Western Diet.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to Diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease, and migraines. So, with the Western Diet, you have dangerously conflicting factors.
People are consuming too much sugar, salt and saturated fat, and not enough micronutrients like magnesium.
There is no such thing as a magical food that will single-handedly make you fat, make you skinny or prevent cancer. However, when it comes to overall eating habits, the Western Diet certainly seems to be the culprit for the chronic illnesses and diseases state of so many.
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Charmaine Jones