I was reading an article the other day online about the Western or standard American diet (SAD), which basically is the overconsumption of highly-processed food, refined sugars, saturated fats, and poor quality protein, combined with a reduced intake of healthy plant-based fare. In the article, “Ian Myles, from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases [noted that]…highly processed and refined foods, common to Western meals, are disliked by the body” (1). It wreaks havoc with your immune system, causes low-level inflammation in the body, and destroys the good gut bacteria, leaving you susceptible to the bad ones (1). Moreover, SAD leads to obesity and as the head of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, Jeremy Nicholson notes, “Obesity predisposes you to disease…Inflammation within the body is also high in obese individuals, increasing their risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and joint conditions such as arthritis…All of these are inflammatory conditions” (1). Additionally, most of us are probably aware Type II diabetes is linked with diet. The fact is, “[the] Standard American Diet (SAD) has long been implicated in contributing to the health challenges experienced in the United States” (2).
Of course this got me thinking about all the pitfalls around us when it comes to unhealthy eating. From restaurants and movie theatres to your local grocery store, SAD foods surround us daily. Take my lunch for instance. While eating out with a co-worker, we chose a specialty burrito house which claims to offer grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and other healthy options. One of those options is the ability to make a custom salad, rather than a burrito. I chose a fresh spring lettuce mix, grass-fed beef, some veggies, and pico de gallo for my salad. Looking around me, I noticed most went for the burritos with items such as cheese, sour cream, Mexican rice, refried beans, etc. wrapped inside a tortilla. Why did the majority of the folks there make these selections when there were healthier options? It is because most Westerners are used to eating this way. What’s a burrito without cheese and sour cream you might ask. The answer: A healthier burrito.
As knowledge increases about the diet-health connection, we are starting to see more whole and natural food stores and restaurants pop up – and that’s great. But the fact remains clear: natural cheese, olive oil, and whole wheat baked together still make an unhealthy cheese pizza. Coconut flour and oil, mixed with honey and eggs to make a baked treat should still be treated as well, a treat. (See my article on why honey isn’t paleo here). However, because most of us want to have our cake and eat it too, these places are catering to our desires and pushing these ‘healthier’ options toward us. Don’t get me wrong. I’d eat a confectionary treat using coconut flour and oil over one made with highly processed bleached flour and refined canola oil any day of the week. But it’s still not the healthiest choice for me or you – and it should be considered a treat, not a dietary staple. The SAD diet is truly sad because we’ve all become accustomed to junk food. As one John Hopkins Center study noted,
“The risks of diet-related diseases can be greatly reduced by making healthier food choices. Changing people’s behavior, however, is easier said than done. Although the American public has become more aware of the links between diet and health, knowledge alone hasn’t been enough to remedy poor diets or curb obesity rates. 17 This is because food choices are based on more than just knowledge and willpower—they are influenced by factors such as taste, cost, convenience, advertising and the eating habits of friends and family” (3).
Unfortunately for us, the fact remains that sugar, bad carbohydrates, saturated fat, and processed foods are harming our health and shortening our lifespan. The SAD truth is, “the current generation of American children is predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents” (3). We need to get back to nature and leave all this processed food behind. We need to eat the way our ancestors ate before the agricultural revolution. When it comes to diet, we need to think lean meats, lots of good vegetables, some fruit, some nuts, and for us modern folk, a little healthy oil is fine too. The American palette may not be too interested in this fare at first, but if one gives it time (say 30 days), your taste buds will adjust and you’ll end up really enjoying it. More importantly, your body will thank you for it.
1. Senthilingam, M. (n.d.). Why a ‘Western’ diet could be bad for you – CNN.com. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/07/health/western-diet-health/index.html
2. Grotto, D., & Zied, E. 2010. The Standard American Diet and its relationship to the health status of Americans. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25, 603-612. Retrieved July 10, 2015 from http://ncp.sagepub.com/content/25/6/603.abstract
3. Diet and Influences on Food Choice. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/teaching-the-food-system/curriculum/_pdf/Diet_and_Influences-Background.pdf