By guest blogger, Dr. Mike
A Google search on the word “diet” yields over 482,000,000 results. A similar search on the term “health” yields over 3,410,000,000 results. The only consistent finding is that the findings are inconsistent. Thousands of healthful diet solutions are offered. Unfortunately, they are usually in the form of purchasing boxed meals from now until Armageddon; which fortunately will still occur before the expiration date on the carton.
What is the Modern Western Diet and Why is it Killing Us?
While almost everyone has a general gist of what the term modern Western diet, also known as the Standard American Diet (or SAD), encompasses, defining it can be a bit trickier. It is a bit like what Justice Potter Stewart had to say about pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. Or in this case, when we eat it.
Since there is a quantitative limit to the amount of food we consume each day, when we consume more of one type of food, we generally consume less of another. What we are primarily consuming in the modern Western diet is massive amounts of refined and processed foods built layer upon layer of sugar, salt and fat, all at the expense of other necessary and -in many cases- quite delicious dietary components.
Health Effects of the SAD Diet
We feel the physical impact both by direct and indirect effects. The first, most obvious, direct result is that our diet is completely out of balance. The natural sodium to potassium ratio that exists with less prepackaged and processed food has become totally askew. These highly refined foods, especially ubiquitous sugars and sweeteners, have flipped the nutrient and energy balance resulting in a diet that is energy rich but nutrient poor. The amount and types of fats have been altered compared to less prepared alternatives. While our level of carbohydrate consumption remains at about what it was at the turn of the twentieth century, we have replaced over 40% of the fiber with refined carbohydrates. The result is that we have become seekers of the next fix; we have lost our ability to taste and appreciate real authentic food. We are the walking unfed.
The Gut Connection
The indirect effects, while no less substantial, are just beginning to be exposed. It appears that our processed foods may have a huge effect on our gut microbiome, altering it in potentially unfavorable ways. Previous studies demonstrate that zero calorie artificial sweeteners indeed have no direct interaction with human cells while passing through the gastrointestinal tract. However, recent evidence has implicated these compounds in changing the quantity and quality of the bacteria that comprise the gut microbiome. Such changes result in inflammatory effects that are associated with the development of such disabilities and diseases as obesity and diabetes. Recent common food additives like the omnipresent emulsifiers polysorbate eighty (P80) and carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) have also been shown to impact the gut microbiome and result in ongoing low level inflammation and in some cases overt colitis.
The idea of simply reducing calories – that eating less of the rubbish that is the modern Western diet – will lead to health and wellness is suspect. The exclusionary practices proposed will never lead us into epicurean enlightenment. There is no salvation in deprivation. The predominant process of trying to fix our ills by focusing on the quantity, and particularly the caloric nature of the food we choose to eat, is fundamentally flawed.
We must look to the quality of our comestibles as the method to regain the keys, if not for the kingdom, at least to our icebox.
Guest blogger, Dr. Mike, is a Board Certified Interventional Cardiologist. He’s America’s Culinary Interventionalist; cardiologist, chef, martial artist, and author, leading the intestinal revolution and the Grassroots Gourmet way! Visit Dr. Mike and learn more at Cardio Chef.
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