The Heart Un-Healthy Western Diet
“God sendeth and giveth both mouth and meat.” Thomas Tusser
“The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of `real food for real people,’ you’d better live real close to a real good hospital.” Dr. Neal D. Bernard, MD
The ‘Western’ Diet is a ‘meat-sweet’ diet. This diet is high in red and processed meats, sweets, fried foods, refined grains, and desserts. And after almost a century, it has finally become clear that this diet has become a serious threat to our health.
Obesity is primarily related to excessive caloric intake. The meat-sweet diet of USA has resulted in sixty-five percent of adults aged 20 y being either overweight or obese. Unfortunately, the numbers are increasing and the estimated number of deaths ascribable to obesity growing. The western diet is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer. Cardiovascular disease is the cause of 38.5% of all deaths in the US. Almost 65 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease. The second leading cause of death is cancer in the US. It is estimated that one third of all cancers (25% of all deaths ) are related to diet and obesity. Other chronic diseases strongly related to and influenced by the western diet are hypertension (50 million Americans), diabetes (11 million), elevated cholesterol (37 million) and osteoporosis (7.2 million) and osteopenia (39.6 million). Hip fractures greatly increase the mortality, and osteoporosis plays a major role in this disease.
Indications of the dangerous nature of the western diet started emerging almost a century ago. In 1916, Dutch physician De Langen published a study of showing the higher cholesterol levels of Dutch immigrants as those of the native Javanese. This almost double cholesterol level was associated with metabolic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and nephritis. In 1950’s, Keys and coworkers found that cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease mortality rates were high in United States and Finland, while being low in Japan and southern Europe. They attributed this to the substantial differences in the dietary patterns – an early indication that the ‘Western” diet was heart unhealthy.
In 1958 a major scientific study called the Seven Countries Study, involving 12,763 men between the ages of 40 to 59 years began. These countries were the United States, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and Japan. Over a period of 25 years, about 6000 men died, of which 1500 men died of coronary heart disease. Populations with the highest consumption of animal food groups, with the exception of fish, had a much higher 25-year coronary heart disease mortality rates, when compared to populations with the highest vegetable, grains, fish and wine consumption. During the start of the study, the consumption of milk, potatoes, butter, and sugar products was very high in Finland. Netherlands had a similar but lower consumption pattern. Meat, pastry and fruit consumption (meat-sweet diet) was high in the United States. The Italians ate a lot of cereal and drank moderate amounts of wine while bread consumption was high in the former Yugoslavia. Greeks consumed high amounts of olive oil and fruit, while the Japanese were fond of fish, rice, and soy products. Heart attacks… God’s revenge for eating his little animal friends. -Author Unknown
How did the western diet emerge? The Western diet developed gradually over the last 200 years and was mainly a result of industrialization. In the prehistoric times, milk intake was limited to mother’s milk as it was impossible to milk wild animals. “The human body has no more need for cows’ milk than it does for dogs’ milk, horses’ milk, or giraffes’ milk.” -Michael Klaper, MD, author of Vegan Nutrition: Pure & Simple. With domestication of cows and other animals and subsequent ability for refrigeration, a whole host of dairy products became a staple of the western diet. The mechanized steel roller mills and automated sifting devices of today remove most of the germ and bran of the cereal grains, leaving mainly the endosperm as flour. The recent production of high fructose corn syrup greatly increased refined sugar consumption. Industrialization also produced more atpical vegetable oils for consumption that are high in trans fatty acids, as is seen in margarine and shortening. Salt intake is very high in the United States. Unfortunately 90% of the salt in the typical US diet comes from manufactured salt that is added to the food supply, and not from salt added while cooking or from the table.
“Meat, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.”William C. Roberts, M.D. and Editor in Chief, American Journal of Cardiology, vol. 66, October 1, 1990. Unlike meat from wild animals or pasture raised cattle, 99% of all the beef consumed in the United States is high in the unhealthy saturated fatty acids and n-6 fatty acids and low in the beneficial n-3 fatty acids. This meat is mainly produced from grain-fed, feedlot cattle. “The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of `real food for real people,’ you’d better live real close to a real good hospital.” -Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
The western diet is also deficient in micronutrients (At least half the US population fails to meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B-6, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, and 33% of the population does not meet the RDA for folate), is conducive to an acidic body status (fish, meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, cheese, milk, and cereal grains are net acid producing, whereas fresh fruit, vegetables, tubers, roots, and nuts are net base producing.), has less potassium (Industrial periods caused a 400% decline in the potassium intake while simultaneously initiating a 400% increase in sodium ingestion ) and fiber (refined sugars, vegetable oils, dairy products, and alcohol, are all devoid of fiber. Refined grains contain about 400% less fiber when compared to whole grains, and the former represent 85% of the grains consumed in the United States). These are all detrimental to the health, especially cardiac health. Because normally with Western cuisine, you’ll serve vegetables separate from the meat, so kids will eat the meat and never touch the vegetables. Martin Yan. Vegetables and fruits are mainly side dishes or desserts in the Western Diet.
More die in the United States of too much food than of too little. -John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society. The western diet has also become an excessive calorie diet, resulting in the obesity epidemic in the western world, with all its health consequences. Americans eat 3,770 calories a day, and have the highest per capita daily consumption in the world. This is more than a Canadian at 3,590 calories or an Indian at 2,440, according to data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. Unfortunately switching to diet sodas does not help – a recent report has shown the diet soda drinkers may be more prone to the dangerous metabolic syndrome.
When combined with inactivity and smoking, the western diet has become lethal. So cut down on red meat, especially beef and change to a prudent heart healthy diet. So, as an old English Proverb warns: don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork.