The eating pattern that leads to disease
A few simple dietary changes can be made for improved health for many who struggle with weight or are feeling unwell.
If you are one of the many individuals, adults and children alike, consuming the Standard American Diet, and are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy weight or are dealing with a chronic condition, there are simple dietary changes that you can make that will help.
First, let’s be more specific about the Standard American Diet.
The Standard American Diet is an eating pattern, and it is associated with many chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, fatty liver, as well as certain cancers like breast, prostate, and colon cancers (1) (2). The Standard American Diet also encourages weight gain (3).
When someone consumes the Standard American Diet they eat high-calorie highly processed foods that contain unhealthy fats, sodium, and excessive amounts of sugar each day (1) (3). An example of this type of eating pattern would be a bowl of cereal or a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich with deli meat and chips or a hamburger and fries for lunch, and pasta with bread or chicken nuggets and fries for dinner. In addition, sugary beverages like soda, sweet tea, or lemonade, and desserts or treats like cookies, cakes, and candy, tend to be a part of this eating pattern during the week as well (3).
What individuals do not eat when they consume the Standard American Diet is enough nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds each day (3) (4). Additionally, most Americans are not consuming enough clean water throughout each day, which lends to dysfunction in the body (5) (6).
Why we should care about what we eat
Over the past 50-60 years the health of Americans has worsened, with one of the main causes being the daily consumption of highly-processed foods and beverages (7).
Highly-processed foods like chips, burgers, pizza, white-flour baked goods like bread and pastries, breakfast cereals, meal replacement bars, and candy, typically contain chemical additives and synthetic ingredients (4). Additionally, these foods tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients, encouraging weight gain and leaving the body deficient in what it needs to be healthy (4).
Taking in excess calories each day leads to excess weight which, over time, increases the individual's risk of developing serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, asthma, and many types of cancer (8).
And, various food additives that highly-processed foods contain have been associated with health conditions independent of weight gain. High fructose corn syrup, for example, promotes metabolic syndrome and altered dopamine (neurotransmitter) function in the body (9).
Simple dietary changes for improved health
First, if you are among one of the many Americans eating the Standard American Diet, you can begin making the switch from highly-processed foods to a more whole-food diet to improve your overall health.
Rather than the example given above, for breakfast, you can swap out the breakfast cereal or bagel for hard-boiled eggs and fruit or steel-cut oats with cinnamon and apple slices. For lunch, swap out the highly-processed sandwich or burger for a tuna and white bean salad or curry lentil soup. And, for dinner, you can whip up a chicken and eggplant bake or beef and greens stir fry instead of the highly-processed pasta or chicken nuggets.
Also, be sure to eat enough food (this will be different for each person) at each of these meals, and skip the snacking. If you are including a treat, like cinnamon apple slices, watermelon, or a fruit smoothie, consume your treat after your lunch or dinner meal.
And, be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day, and finish your last meal of the day at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed as this will give your body time to digest before it goes into rest and repair mode.
Be prepared for change
Although these seem like simple changes to make each day, they may not be easy to incorporate. Food habits and eating patterns can be formed from a very young age and can be difficult to change all at once. Here’s some information on habit change.
Cooking whole food also requires time for planning and preparation, so be prepared to spend a little more time in these areas.
In addition, you may encounter resistance from family and friends who don’t understand your need for these changes, and, some food is addictive, like sugar, so be patient with others and yourself, these changes don’t have to happen all at once.
Of course, diet is one facet of a healthy lifestyle, movement, stress, sleep, and positively connecting with others are also important to optimize one's overall health.
If you would like support or more individualized care, please get in touch here.
And remember, healthier habits lead to healthier bodies!