The Western Diet

19 May

What would a 100 year-old think of McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, genetically engineered produce, and the soy filler concoction that’s added to fast food hamburgers? As an American, I hang my head in shame when I think about the awful changes we’ve made to the American diet over the past 100 years. The “food-like substances” that we eat today are NOTHING like the foods eaten by Americans a decade ago. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce “The Western Diet”.

The Western Diet was “invented” by the western world (America) and is defined as a diet high in animal products (especially red meat), saturated and hydrogenated fat, processed food, and low in fiber, plant foods (fruits and vegetables), and whole grains. The “Western Diet” is to blame for the “Western diseases”- obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and certain cancers. I’m not going to ask you to give up meat and only eat vegetables (stay with me, Uncle Kent). In fact, tons of research has shown that a wide variety of “traditional” diets keep humans healthy and disease-free. The only diet that is shown to cause high disease rates and shown to deteriorate human health is the Western Diet. How does our diet differ from traditional diets? One difference: Traditional diets consist of real food. The easiest way to think of this is to imagine what your grandma/great-grandma would serve for dinner. Everything would be whole foods, perhaps even from her garden. Instead of boxes and packaging littering the kitchen counter, there would be mixing bowls and measuring cups because most everything would be made from scratch. The meat and eggs probably came from a farm down the road and everything would be sure to spoil if not consumed within a week. Fast-forward to today. The components of a typical American dinner come from either a package, box, or drive-thru. The ingredient lists on the packaging consist of a long list of unpronounceable additives and preservatives that Grandma wouldn’t recognize. Foods that should only last about a week can now sit in our cabinets for weeks, months, and even years before they go bad. “Cooking” the way Grandma did has transformed into tearing open a box, adding water, and waiting in front of the microwave. Yes, cooking from scratch takes more time. Yes, real whole foods don’t last as long. No, you probably don’t have a chicken farmer in your subdivision (but there might be one closer than you think!). But YES, eating like Grandma is healthier and better for your body than allowing Mickey D’s to cook (submerge in the deep-fryer) your dinner. Here’s a few things you can do to rewind your food habits and take a cue from your very wise elders. 

  • Eat real, whole foods. Whole fruits and vegetables might not last as long as Fruit Roll-Ups and potato chips, but they will do wonders for your health. Don’t have time replenish your fruit and veggie supply every week? Frozen fruits and vegetables last longer than fresh and they are just as nutritious. Another tip- keep fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge to slow the ripening process.
  • Reduce your packaging. If a food comes in a package, it’s most likely processed which means it most likely contains substances that are foreign to your body. When you do buy packaged foods (because I know you will), check the ingredient list and think of these two rules: 1. The shorter the better and 2. if there’s multiple ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not good for you.
  • Utilize your local farmers. This is the perfect time of year to seek out local farmers and local farmer’s markets. You’ll find the freshest of the fresh produce, meat, eggs, breads, and cheeses and you’ll probably get a better deal than you would at Wal-Mart. Yeah, I said it. 🙂 Check out Local Harvest to find your local farms, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores.  

I know that the pace of the modern world is faster than in your great-grandma’s time, but all I’m really asking is that you simplify your food habits. Eat foods that would be recognizable to a generation 60 years ago. These are foods that our bodies were biologically designed to eat, foods that our bodies know how to digest. They don’t contain a million different additives that build up inside our bodies and make us sick- clogging our arteries, raising our blood sugar, and forming cancer cells. You don’t have to drastically change everything you eat. It is possible to find snack foods and loaves of bread made with simple ingredients, you just have to look.

Next time you are buzzing through the grocery store or throwing together dinner, take yourself back 60 years and imagine what Grandma/Great-Grandma would choose.

**If you are interested in reading more on this topic, I suggest all of Michael Pollan’s books. He is an incredible food journalist and his books unveil the truth about the dietary mess America has gotten itself in to. I would start with Food Rules. It’s an easy read- about 150 pages of food rules to live by. Very cute book! He also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food– both are much more in-depth and very eye-opening.

Thank you, jwd for helping me focus my thoughts. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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3 Responses to “The Western Diet”

  1. jwd May 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] interrupted him and spoke over him. As a future dietitian hoping to have a hand in overturning the Western diet, I see a lot of promise in Pollan’s food philosophy. He mentioned on the show that he eats […]

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