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The Damage of the Western Diet

The Damage of the Western Diet

When you are looking at dieting plans or talking to a nutritionist about how to put your eating habits on a healthier track, all the different terms and suggestions can get overwhelming. There are don’s and don’ts in just about every protocol, and while they seem straightforward, making your way through the grocery store gets complicated. Whether you are one of those who are wandering around aimlessly or you are squinting at every label you see, educating yourself on the different nutritional components and where they are found can make your life a whole lot easier.

Eating From the Food Pyramid

Some of the earliest nutritional education starts with the food pyramid. The six groups have divided common food items according to healthy recommendations, but the list is not exhaustive. The top portion of the pyramid holds the foods that should get the least amount of attention, and fats, oils, and sweets are a part of this category. Items in this group are the most damaging to your health, as they hold the least amount of nutrition and fill the body with immune-suppressing and fat-building compounds. Knowing you to avoid fats and oils is the easy part. Deciding what to use or what to eat when your dieting plan tells you to increase your omega-3 fatty acids is confusing. Some dieting protocols, such as the HCG diet are very good about their list of acceptable food, identifying exactly what you need to include and what you need to avoid. Your dieting plan shouldn’t just be about weight loss. You should establish healthy eating habits that can sustain your ideal weight for the long-term. For you to stay on target, you do need to limit your consumption of fats, but yet you need to have a good balance of omega-3 fatty acids. Here is how you can keep the right ratio of fatty acids in your diet.

Choosing Between 6 or 3?

Most people consume way too much of the omega-6 fatty acids, and as a whole, have very little consumption of foods that are high in omega-3s. This dietary imbalance is what many scientists are theorizing as one of the most damaging trends in Western diets. Both of these elements are called polyunsaturated fats since they are composed of many double-bonds. The body isn’t able to produce these fats or bonds, so you need to get them from a food source or supplement. A deficiency in these acids could lead to illness, therefore these are labeled as essential fatty acids. Though you have been warned to stay away from fats, these are different. These fatty acids are stored within the body for energy, and they have an important part in keeping down inflammation and supporting blood clotting. Even though they are technically in the same category, there are some reports that omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, while only the omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties. Your body needs some inflammation to protect the body from injury and infection, but too much can lead to severe damage or create more problems with disease.  There has been concern that chronic inflammation is actually one of the leading factors for the development of severe conditions with heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and many types of cancer.

Indulging in the 6s

Scientists have long hypothesized that the imbalance between indulging or consumption of omega-3s and omega 6s plays a role in your body’s inflammatory resistance, but what are the changes to the diet that have created the imbalance?  A history lesson in American consumption starts with the hunters who ate mostly land animals, while the coastal tribe of Inuits fed off mostly seafood. The ratio of 6 to 3 consumption used to about 1:1, and though the life expectancy was often much lower than the current population, the evidence suggests that heart disease, cancers, and diabetes weren’t common at all. The modern diet now has a ration of 16:1 of 6s vs 3s. Combined with the lack of activity, the increased access to processed foods, and a higher intake of sugar, there is cause for concern that the current Western diet is dangerous to health and longevity. The Western diet has foods loaded with processed vegetable and seed/soybean oils, elements full of omega-6s. Soybean oil is the number one source of omega-6 fatty acids in the United States, but yet it stays a staple element of processed foods because it is cheap.

Needing a Diet Change

The high amount of omega-6s in the Western diet has been under scrutiny for years, but the situation is becoming more urgent, as heart disease and obesity are on the rise and out of control. While exercise is one way to improve weight and bodily strength, and medications can address the urgent concerns these conditions bring, changing your meal plan and understanding the importance of food choices can stem the tide of damage caused by the Western dietary trends.


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About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

5 min read