Liz Dobak, Contributing Writer
Over the past few generations, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has undergone a drastic revolution within its integral structure. As technology and manufacturing have advanced, the ease and convenience by which food is produced and consumed have had a great impact upon the type and quality of foods Americans consume on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, the effects of this dietary revolution and technological advancement have caused more nutritional problems for the average American than they have solved.
The SAD is mainly comprised of animal proteins and fats, cholesterol, saturated fats, refined grains and processed foods and is deficient in fiber, complex carbohydrates and plant-based foods. Two-thirds of the calories that Americans eat come from refined and processed foods. Foods that have been modified or processed have reduced levels of vitamins, minerals, essential fats and fiber, all of which are necessary for good health and weight loss.
Unfortunately, the major components of the SAD as well as its nutritional deficiencies can pose a great threat to maintaining good health. For instance, insufficient fiber intake can lower one’s feeling of fullness, which can cause food cravings and lead to overeating. In addition, complex carbohydrates help stabilize appetite and are essential to the body’s production of glucose, which is used by the brain and muscles for energy. A deficiency in complex carbohydrates weakens the body’s immune system, causes fatigue and can cause food cravings. Essential fat, which is different from processed fat that causes weight gain and illness, is necessary for the body to make new cells, maintain a strong immune system and nervous system, and produce hormones within the body. Plant – based foods such as fruits and vegetables provide the body with valuable antioxidants that help reduce free radicals, which damage cells and can lead to degenerative diseases. Fruits and vegetables are also essential to digestion due to their high fiber content, and provide the body with many essential vitamins and minerals. With all of these negative effects caused by the SAD’s deficiencies alone, it is not surprising that illnesses that have been linked to the SAD include cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Countries such as Japan, China, Italy and Greece have kept to their historic dietary roots by severely limiting the amount of processed foods in their diets. Their citizens have far fewer documented cases of illnesses linked to diet. These countries practice portion control and their diets are low-fat diets rich in fish, lean protein, vegetables, fruits and beans. The nutrients in the minimally processed or completely natural foods found in these countries’ diets keep metabolism high and also help the body burn fat naturally.
According to the British Medical Journal, a 2008 meta-analysis of 12 studies of 1.6 million subjects revealed that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet had a 9 percent lower death rate than people who ate the same diet less rigorously. Numerous other studies have found that this diet can protect against heart disease. Though it is hard to isolate the most beneficial components of a Mediterranean diet, it is obvious that a diet that is high in olive oil, whole grains, fruits and vegetables,
with little dependence on red meat can have life-saving benefits. Americans should take note and move away from processed foods, as other countries demonstrate that a less-industrialized diet is better for an individual’s health.