It goes by many names: the Western Diet, the Standard American Diet, the Processed Diet. Whatever you call it, though, you need to be aware of its consequences.
Over the years, the Western Diet has created numerous dangers for people who follow it. Unfortunately, many of those people don’t realize they’re harming their body or are unwilling to give up their favorite foods.
Human habits die hard.
One way to escape the Western Diet is to go vegan or vegetarian. Research shows that a cleaner diet is beneficial not only for animals and the environment but also for human health.
You might already be familiar with veganism, but do you know how much better you might feel if you switched to the vegan lifestyle? Have you tried eating vegan to determine its potential benefits?
If not, you’re in for a surprise. Let’s look at the Western Diet and the ways in which it is slowly killing us.
What is the Western Diet?
The Western Diet contains many highly processed foods that are packed with saturated fats and refined sugars.
They typically are “convenient” and easy-to-prep foods that are “ideal” for the busy worker and family.
From the TV dinner to drive-thru fast food restaurants, companies and big food have been targeting consumers with easy solutions for decades.
These industrialized food-like products are typically made with low-quality ingredients and deliver little nutritional value.
Many of these products are loaded with sugars and lab-created sweeteners (mostly from corn). This quick, sweet fix creates an almost addict-like environment that keeps people constantly consuming.
When the food you eat doesn’t provide the nutrients that we need, it’s hard for us to feel “full.” When we don’t feel full, we keep eating.
This is a dangerous cycle as people continuously eat low-quality, highly processed foods that have played a major role in the deterioration of people’s health.
Obesity is Not The Only Negative Affect of the Western Diet
Many people associate the Western Diet with high rates of obesity.
And while that’s true, obesity rates are skyrocketing all around the world, there are many other risk factors involved with consuming the Western Diet.
With big food expanding globally, these cheap and convenient alternatives to healthy foods are popping up in developing countries.
When poorer communities have access to cheap, highly processed foods, health problems grow quickly.
Heart Disease Due to Diet
In the US alone, heart disease kills over 600,000 people every single year. That accounts for every one in four deaths in America and is the leading death in both men and women.
According to the American Heart Association, “a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease.”
While exercise is clearly important, the diet aspect can’t be stressed enough.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration reported that high levels of PHOs (partially hydrogenated oils) and LDL cholesterol should be used sparingly as they increase the risk of heart disease.
These two high-risk ingredients are found in many highly processed foods and animal products.
Foods to avoid in order to fight off the chances of getting heart disease include:
- Processed sweets like cookies and pastries
- Dairy products
- Red meats
- Fried foods and snacks
Many people wonder about eggs and whether or not they too put people at higher risk for heart disease.
It’s well known that eggs are high in cholesterol. However, many studies (many backed by the egg industry and those that stand to profit from it) argue that it’s good cholesterol and needed for a healthy lifestyle.
The debate goes back and forth between studies that are for and studies that are against eggs. What seems to be the common ground between both is that moderation is key.
How the Western Diet is Increasing the Rate of Diabetes
According to researchers at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, even short-term exposure to the Western Diet can increase one’s risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
And according to the CDC, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes.
That is a shocking statistic. More than 25% of the US population.
Approximately 90-95% of these people suffer from type 2 diabetes.
What really puts the diet angle into perspective is that upwards of 90% of the cases are preventable.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition where the body is unable to produce insulin (or resists insulin) making sugar levels in the blood much higher than normal.
Consuming too much sugar and fat, things typically found in highly processed foods, can be a cause of diabetes.
High Blood Pressure
Diet can impact your health in many ways.
One of the major negative impacts that the Western Diet has on the consumer is that it obesity.
Beyond playing a factor in the onset of diabetes and heart disease, obesity is also one of the causes of high blood pressure.
And a more direct link from poor diet to high blood pressure is that of high concentrations of salt in the diet.
One shocking study published in BMJ Open in 2016 found that more than half of the calories consumed by Americans came from “ultra-processed” foods. These products are loaded with synthetic trans fats, artificial sweeteners (like high fructose corn syrup), and, you guessed it, sodium.
All of these factors are major culprits when it comes to the deterioration of one’s health and well-being.
Preventing Stroke with Diet
A popular article published by Harvard Medical School discusses seven different things one can do to prevent stroke.
Losing weight, lowering blood pressure, and treating diabetes are three of those seven things.
Of the conditions mentioned above, the common link is diet.
By eating highly processed foods that are loaded with sugar, fat, and salt, consumers of the Western Diet are risking their lives.
It’s dangerous to say that diet will 100% prevent any of these things to happen. Of course, that isn’t the case.
A healthy vegan that exercises can still have high blood pressure as it can run in the family.
However, the likelihood that an active vegan who watches their health and eating habits is diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease is much lower than someone who lives a sedentary lifestyle and exclusively eats highly processed foods and meats.
Diseases Caused by Western Diet areco More Common Than Ever
This problem is only getting worse.
The diseases and conditions mentioned above are spreading at the fastest rates in history.
And this isn’t just occurring in the United States. The problem is global.
David Tilman, a professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota said as people’s income goes up, they “choose more calories and meat in their diet.”
As more countries develop and their populations rise out of poverty, the tendency to consume what they were unable to consume goes up. But that’s not the only problem.
As global food companies expand their reach, their products find their ways into new markets. This introduces cheap, highly processed choices to the poorer populations in developing nations.
In fact, it’s very common in the poorest nations to see companies like Coca-Cola distributing free plastic chairs, tables, and even signs for shops in exchange for said establishments to sell their products.
And remember, Coca-Cola has over 500 brands being sold in more than 200 countries. It’s safe to say that aside from water, these products are not healthy and contribute to the growing trend of Western Diet consumption worldwide. It also contributes to the increased health risks people are facing around the world.
The Western Diet is spreading and negatively impacting people on two completely separate fronts. It is impacting the health of people coming into money that can afford more meat and food with more calories. And it is impacting the poor who can only afford the cheapest, most highly processed options available.
So how do people avoid the Western Diet?
Veganism: The Best and All Natural Solution to the Western Diet
Veganism is the best solution to the Western Diet for many reasons.
Because so many processed foods contain products from animals, vegans naturally avoid an unnecessarily high intake of industrialized products.
Do most vegans avoid processed foods all of the time? Of course not.
In fact, 2018 saw the biggest jump in availability in vegan products ever. The trend is only expected to grow in 2019 and beyond.
A blanket statement that being vegan is healthier than the Western Diet is dangerous because it’s possible to be vegan and only eat junk food.
Each person is different. The same goes for each vegan.
Generally speaking, however, if you go vegan and eat a well-balanced, plant-based diet then you will be healthier than someone who eats loads of meat and processed foods.
The best way to become a vegan is to study up about plant-based nutrition and understand what you are getting into beforehand.
Why Become a Vegan?
There are many different reasons why people become vegan.
The first and most important reason should be for the animals. Remember, veganism is a lifestyle, not just a diet.
But just because you went vegan for the animals doesn’t mean that you won’t find plenty of other perks to veganism.
Rich in Certain Nutrients
Vegans typically eat a much healthier diet than those that follow the Western Diet.
A whole-foods plant-based diet is natural and delivers the nutrients that we need to be healthy.
Not only do many vegans eat healthier foods, but they also eat less as well. When your body gets what it needs for sustenance, you don’t need as much compared to when you are eating fatty, oil-heavy alternatives.
Helps You Lose Weight
Because you are eating less overall, there is a very high chance that you’ll lose weight with a vegan diet.
Many vegans put animals first and choose veganism because they want to avoid cruelty against animals.
However, as vegansim grows in the mainstream and garners widespread coverage, new people will jump on board for other reasons.
Weight loss is a very attractive benefit to a whole-foods plant-based diet.
In the US alone, an estimated 45 million people experiment with different kinds of diets every single year. That’s approximately 15% of the population.
These Americans trying to lose weight spend an estimated $33 billion each year on weight loss products.
While many vegans argue that animal welfare should be the most important factor when it comes to going vegan, the fact that veganism is generating wider awareness is a good thing.
If people become more aware of the atrocities animals face on factory farms because they initially wanted to lose weight then that should be more than okay.
Protection Against Chronic Diseases
As we discussed above, a vegan diet can help prevent many different chronic health issues.
This alone should attract more people to the movement. From there, they can open their eyes to the realities that the food industry prefers to keep hidden.
Losing weight and fighting off obesity are important steps in preventing (and sometimes reversing) serious health issues.
It’s Linked to a Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., a well-known doctor and advocate of a plant-based lifestyle, published a fascinating study in The Journal of Family Practice.
In the study, he tracked 198 patients with cardiovascular disease that consumed a plant-based diet over the course of four years. 177 of those patients were able to make it on the vegan diet until the end. Only one of those people ended up having a stroke, an event that was associated as symptomatic of their cardiovascular disease.
Of the 21 others that didn’t remain on the diet, 13 had experienced a cardiovascular event as a direct result of heart disease.
May Help Protect Against Cancer
According to the World Health Organization, consuming 50 grams of processed meat per day increases the risk of getting colorectal cancer by 18%.
To put that in perspective, 50 grams of processed meat is less than two pieces of bacon.
Colorectal cancer is the most common type of cancer that has a connection the meat consumption. Red meat and processed meats are the biggest culprits.
Cutting out animal products can improve your health while also decreasing the likelihood of getting certain types of cancer.
Reduce Risk of Diabetes
As mentioned before, losing weight is a “bonus” of maintaining a plant-based diet.
By bringing down your weight, you are helping to fight off a future with diabetes.
There are numerous different factors that can potentially influence one’s chance of becoming diabetic.
Family history and genetics, age, stress, and high cholesterol can all be factors.
However, obesity is the biggest predictor when it comes to what causes type 2 diabetes.
By switching to a plant-based diet, the chances of losing weight – and therefore reducing your risk of diabetes – is very real.
How to Become a Vegan?
Becoming a vegan is a different process for each and every person.
Some people watch a documentary about factory farming and become vegan instantly.
Many people start off as vegetarians and transition over time to veganism.
Others don’t ever become vegan but will follow a plant-based diet for life.
Each person and their journey is different.
Join a Vegan Support Group
There are many support groups online for vegans and people making the transition. Many vegans can feel alone in the world without the support of other vegans.
As surprising as this may sound, many vegans claim they feel discriminated against on a regular basis. A lot of it has to do with the common misconception that vegans are pushy and preachy.
While there are always some people that try and push their beliefs on others, most vegans live regular lives and don’t try to influence others.
It’s important to connect with other vegans, though, on your quest to becoming vegan. You will be able to get the support and advice that many people making the transition need.
Ask questions. If you join a support group (there are countless on Facebook), don’t feel shy.
There will always be some people that give snarky responses or could make you feel like you are taking too long to “become vegan.” Ignore those people. Focus on your journey and know that you are taking steps in the right direction.
For many people, going vegan can be a major challenge.
People making their transition can feel overwhelmed by the amount of new information and “rules” that other vegans share.
If you start with a plant-based diet but feel shunned for continuing to wear leather, don’t worry. Take your time. The journey is yours and yours alone. There are no real rules, regulations, and timelines one must follow on their quest to veganism.
Take it Slow
Keep an open mind and be open to struggle in the beginning.
Always remember that the transition is different for everyone and that the only people judging you should be ignored.
You will face criticism from friends and family but welcome it with open arms.
Try and educate those who push against your new ways but don’t push them away in the process. Many vegans can unintentionally isolate themselves this way and it’s not recommended.
Keep an open mind.
Know that your decision to become vegan is in protest against the cruelty that billions of animals face. You are their voice.
Beyond being a voice for the voiceless, there are many positive benefits that were mentioned above.
The Western Diet might be convenient. It might also be packed with easy and delicious food.
But does the suffering of billions of animals each year and your deteriorating health justify your desire to follow such a destructive lifestyle?
The Western Diet is spreading at a shocking rate.
Waistlines are expanding around the globe and the cases of preventable diseases is skyrocketing.
There is another way.
It is possible to avoid the Western Diet, save animals, and improve your health in the process.
Going vegan helps you achieve all of these things and more.
Have you considered leaving the Western Diet behind?
Sentient Media editorial team.