The Standard American Diet or S.A.D. is well-known to nutritionists and most healthcare providers as being associated with high amounts of processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately these foods are completely devoid of their inherent nutrition and fiber while also often being high in sugar and unhealthy fats. Throw in copious amounts of salt high fructose corn syrup artificial ingredients (such as flavors preservatives and colorants) and a lack of consistent exercise and you have a recipe for epidemic rates of cardiovascular disease diabetes and a variety of cancers.
These physiological responses to what has become a diet of convenience (it actually requires some work time and effort to cook healthy unprocessed foods) also translate to other cultures. As many second and third world countries become more prosperous their demands for all things western also increase. This includes access and desire for western types of food. We have seen the effects of adopting western ways of eating on traditional cultures as diverse as Chinese and African peoples as they end up experiencing dramatically increased rates of diabetes obesity and cancer once they transition from a traditional predominantly whole plant food diet to one composed of processed foods.
It will come as no surprise that the western way of eating is highly oxidative and inflammatory. It is this chronic exposure to both high levels of oxidation and inflammation that sets the stage for and directly leads to the disease process that for one negatively impacts the immune system.
We know that certain fats can be either anti-inflammatory or inflammatory in nature as the following study attests. Additionally high levels of certain saturated fats can change the gastrointestinal milieu negatively impacting normal healthy flora growth while subsequently enabling pathogenic bacteria to then flourish increasing the risk to those who are predisposed to developing inflammatory bowel diseases.
According to a recent study the condition ADHD also has been linked to the consumption of a western style diet as well demonstrating the impact diet has on our young.
Overproduction of insulin and IGF-1 are associated with a high glycemic diet. Insulin and IGF-1 are anabolic hormones which encourage cell proliferation while down-regulating cellular apoptosis. Chronic elevations of these hormones have been linked to developing an increased risk of cancer.
One particular study has concluded that as the evidence for overproduction of IGF-1 has been linked to a variety of diseases including Alzheimer's and kidney disease it may make sense to consider diets such as the Paleolithic style of eating in order to decrease the body's chronic exposure to this potentially disruptive hormone. This style of eating emphasizes whole plant-based foods which generates less insulin and IGF-1 reducing the risk of age-associated pathology.
Using simple ingredients consuming whole foods and focusing on vegetables and fruit will absolutely take more time in the kitchen. But perhaps this time can be spent communally interacting with family while everyone helps contribute to the evening meal. This may be an ideal way to strengthen the family bonds while doing the same for our health.
Michael Fuhrman D.C.