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May 11, 2014

Concepts of the western diet

by Helene van den Berg


The Western dietary pattern is characterized by:

  • high intakes of GMO grain fed animal products
  • sugary desserts (high fructose corn syrup)
  • huge quantities of oxidized vegetable oils, rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids from GMO corn, soy, cottonseed or canola oil.
  • high-saturated fat foods
  • refined grain products with wheat.
  • high-fat dairy products
  • high-sugar drinks
  • processed meat.

The main concept of the Western diet, considered the American way of eating is:

  • consuming as much as possible
  • for the smallest financial investment.

People eating a Western diet often consume two or three times the required amount of calories daily, but don’t meet the dietary guidelines for nutrient intake (e.g. they eat 2 chocolate doughnuts and a cup of coffee for breakfast, which equals 500 k/cal…compared to a bowl of All- bran flakes, with half a banana and milk, small bowl of mixed fresh berries, egg, sausage, slice of toast and coffee, which also equals 500 k/cal).


Cleaning your plate is a Western practice that comes from feelings of appreciation and guilt. Luxury items were scarce during the era of the Great Depression. As the economy improved in the 1950’s, American plates filled up, but not all countries had the access to food like Americans did. This appreciation and empathy led American moms to encourage kids to clean their plates, because children in other countries were not as lucky. Half a century later, people are still motivated by something other than hunger to finish the food they were served.


Convenience foods became popular during the 1950’s and today the Western diet is convenient and easy, usually at the expense of nutrition and taste.


The Western diet is filled with cheap food. The food industry sells low-quality, inexpensive food to the consumer. In other cultures, a family unable to afford meat, dines on vegetables and grains. The Western food industry developed ways to make meat and other “luxury” food items cheap enough for all income levels. This includes raising animals in unhealthy conditions to keep the cost low and substituting cane sugar with less expensive, high fructose, corn syrup in beverages and snack food.

The Standard American diet (S.A.D.) describes the stereotypical diet of Americans. The typical American diet is about 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat and 15% protein. The quality of the carbohydrate, protein and fat is as important as the quantity. Complex carbohydrates such as starch is more healthy than the sugar so frequently consumed in the S.A.D. Nearly half of the meals ordered in fast-food restaurants were hamburgers, french fries or poultry and one third of orders included a carbonated beverage drink. From 1970 – 2008, the per capita consumption of calories increased by nearly one-quarter in the United States and about 10% of all calories were from high-fructose corn syrup.

The United States is the unhealthiest industrialized nation in the world!:

64.5% of all Americans are either overweight or obese. Obesity seriously increases the risk of illness and death due to diabetes, stroke, coronary artery disease, kidney and gallbladder disorders and even certain types of cancer. Americans eat too much and too much of the wrong foods. They have become hooked on fast foods – they reason they don’t have time to prepare a decent meal. The food industry spends nearly $10 billion dollar a year advertizing unwholesome junk food and fast foods. These junk foods include high –carb foods, low in nutrients, manufactured trans fats, processed foods, sugar in all it’s forms and refined flour.

The conventional wisdom about the role fats play in the human diet, is wrong – in fact, it’s a high-carb, high saturated fat diet that results in weight problems and all the diseases that go along with being overweight. The USDA Food Triangle, which guides school lunch programs across America, is top-heavy on refined grains, including pasta, while limiting foods containing fats; so-called healthy foods like bran muffins, fruit juices, diet shakes and nutrition bars, are loaded with empty calories and high carbohydrate counts.


The low fat, high carbohydrate diet promoted by the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Health etc. may have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndromes.

THEREFORE the carbohydrate–induced conditions brought on by the S.A.D. could be reversed by the ATKINS Nutritional Approach (ANA). Atkins works, because it targets our stored body fat, which is body’s back-up system for fuel to generate energy. When insignificant amounts of carbohydrates are available, the body converts the fat as the primary fuel source and the result is an extremely efficient weight loss and weight maintenance program. Low-fat diets can work, but the problem is that people feel too deprived on them and quit, because of hunger and food cravings. The ANA abandons the concept of low-fat diet and moves towards addressing the problem – which is too many of the wrong carbohydrates in the diet. Rather than a short-term weight loss solution, the ANA focuses on a life-long program for health, based on 4 principles:

  • WEIGHT LOSS – restricting the intake of digestible carbohydrate (without caloric restriction), the body converts from the metabolic pathway of burning carbohydrate to primarily burning fat as it’s main energy source. This results in weight loss. Lipolysis/ketosis replaces the alternative of burning glucose for energy.
  • WEIGHT MAINTENANCE – each person has a tightly regulated carbohydrate threshold below which fat burning and weight loss occurs.
  • GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING – people following a controlled-carbohydrate nutritional approach and eating nutrient–dense foods (including adequate fiber and healthy fats) will enjoy good health and well–being….compared to the calorie-restricted, fat-deficient diet. Exercise is also essential for controlling weight, enhancing energy and maintain a sense of well-being.
  • DISEASE PREVENTION – By lowering their carbohydrate intake, resulting in normal blood sugar and insulin levels, will see an improvement in certain chronic illnesses (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension etc.).


The United Nations World Health Assembly advocated a significant new health goal for 2025: to reduce avoidable deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25%. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory disease kill 35 million people per year. The UN has identified tobacco, alcohol and poor diet as central risk factors. The first two have been regulated by governments, but poor diet is responsible for more disease than smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity combined. What component of the Western Diet should be targeted?. SUGAR!!. Unlike fat and protein, refined sugar offer no nutritional value and the body does not need it for energy .

Sugars are added to a majority of processed foods in the UK. The UK and Europe’s guidelines for daily amount of sugar is still 22 teaspoons of sugar daily (not updated since 2003).

Scientific experts have advised the WHO that added sugar should constitute no more than 5% of energy: average man is 8 tsp/day and average woman 6 tsp/day (it includes sugars from fruit juice and honey). The misleading labeling and health claims on “LOW FAT” foods that have shocking levels of sugar added, is a SCANDAL!.

The main aim of scientific and health experts, should be to pressurize governments and the food industry to reduce sugar in foods by 40% over the next 4 years (my opinion: reduce it by 95% in 2025). That would mean 100 fewer calories per person, which would REVERSE the obesity epidemic. Unfortunately sugar is essential to food industry profits and lining the pockets of it’s co-opted partners (a UK member of parliament, who opposes sugar as the culprit in our diet, is a paid director of the marketing company, Profero, which includes clients like Pepsi, Mars, Pizza Hut)!.The food industry spends billions in junk food and sugary drink advertising, targeting the most vulnerable members of society, including children!. Worse, the industry associates fitness and sport with junk food and sugary drinks.

Mars is one of the official sponsors of the England football team. One Mars bar contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, triple the amount recommended for a 4-8 year old child!. They protect their profits at the expense of our health. We are all vulnerable, because you don’t have to be overweight to be affected by diet-related diseases. Of all the chronic diseases, type-2 diabetes, , which is entirely preventable, is perhaps the most damaging. Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, eye disease, leg amputations and ultimately dementia. The direct and indirect costs to the UK of diabetes is 24bn pounds and projected to be 40bn pounds by 2030. This could potentially cripple the NHS.

Dr Stephan Guyenet, an obesity researcher, showed how the American diet has changed from simple, home-cooked meals to highly refined fast foods.

Today, what we call “food”, is often little more than a bunch of refined ingredients, mixed with artificial chemicals, designed to taste so good that we can’t stop eating. He showed that there hasn’t been any massive shift in the type of macronutrients that are eaten (protein and carbohydrates have remained relatively stable; fat consumption has increased from 31%-41%, due to processed vegetable oils). However the QUALITY of foods have deteriorated significantly!.

People are eating more sugar, more vegetable oils and they are getting them from highly processed, highly palatable foods that drive increased calorie consumption. As people shifted from healthy, home-cooked foods to processed, hyperpalatable foods, they became sicker and fatter!!.

Unfortunately, this development shows no sign of slowing down yet (for the next 10-15 years or longer?), BUT if more and more people become aware of the importance of eating REAL FOOD, things will change for the better.


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