Standard American Diet – 18 Reasons to Avoid
The standard American Diet has a long list of problems as many are beginning to recognize. The food that many consume on a daily basis is starting to raise questions about its overall effects on health. Even questions about the safety of eating some of these foods have increased as a result of the chemicals used in the growing and harvesting process. One thing is certain, the foods that our forefathers grew, raised and consumed are not the same foods that we have today. If fact, some are only similar in name.
The Standard American Diet Paradox
Some may argue that our food is a product of our society. It emerged out of the need for more convenience and the need to feed a greater number of individuals. This point I will not argue. However, convenience and increased crop yields have come at a price. The foods which are routinely consumed are in many ways manufactured. They do not mimic the diversity of foods that were once part of the American diet. Rather the standard American diet has become a monotonous diet lacking diversity. Moreover, this dietary pattern that is at the core of American society seems to have paralleled an increase in chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. We now have a high percentage of individuals classified obese than at any time in the history of the nation. This is not a coincidence and the negative changes that have been a part of the evolution of the standard American Diet deserve some of the blame.
If you feel that you have become a victim to the standard American Diet, you are not by yourself. It is affecting millions. You have become the prey of the food industry who is interested in profits and not long term health. Few will argue that a more nutritious diet based on foods that are not part of the standard American Diet is going to better support your health. But if you are going to take serious steps to modify your diet, you have to be armed with the right information to make an educated choice. As such, I have developed a list of the 18 things that are wrong with the standard American Diet and what to do to not be duped by the influential advertising tactics of the food industry.
18 Facts about the Standard American Diet
1. Glycemic (Sugar) Load – Sugar consumption has increased significantly under the standard American Diet. Foods that you would not even anticipate to have sugar in them have it added in to enhance the taste. Our taste buds have become so desensitized to sweetness from consumption of sodas, fruit juices, and refined foods that we have to add sugar to foods that should never need it. Even worse, the false idea of eating a lot fat diet to lose fat has promoted an even greater consumption of sugar. No wonder diabetes is one of the fastest growing health epidemics.
2. Fatty acid composition – Fats in the standard American Diet have changed the fatty acid make up of our cells. Whereas we used to get an adequate balance of omega 3’s to 6’s and saturated fats to unsaturated fats, this is no longer the case. We have abandoned the intake of traditional foods with high quality fats for fats that are inflammatory to our body such as margarine and soybean oil.
3. Macronutrient composition – Macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. In days gone by, the majority of carbohydrates came from starchy vegetables and fruit. These foods did not allow for overconsumption of carbohydrates. Now with easy accessibility of carbohydrates through refined grains, they are consumed in excess. Add to this that there is little balance with regards to protein consumption with many under-consuming protein and others over-consuming it. Such imbalanced food consumption leads to hormonal imbalances and poor gastrointestinal function.
4. Micronutrient composition – Miconutrients are what we often think about as vitamins and minerals. They are the small substances that have big effects in our body. Think about them as the spark plugs for your system. Without the spark that they give us, we don’t function efficiently. Micronutrients are lacking in the diet leading to nutrient deficiencies. Contributions to this state are predominantly from refining of food, but also growing foods that don’t have the same nutritional value as those of the past.
5. Calorie intake has increased – Most will agree that for the average person, consumption of more calories is not a good thing, especially when they begin to add size to the waistline. The standard American Diet supplies foods that are less nutritious. As a result, it becomes necessary to eat more foods, and thus more calories, to get the same level of needed nutrients.
6. Acid-base balance – There should be a balance between the acid nature of our diet and the alkaline, or base, nature of it. However, the standard American Diet promotes consumption of foods that are highly acidic. Fats contain fatty acids. Proteins contain amino acids. While these are not inherently bad for us, and moreover we actually need a reasonable amount of them, this should also be balances with plant based alkaline foods. This unfortunately does not include grains which predominate in the standard American Diet.
7. Sodium-potassium ratios – Salt, which contains sodium, is often used to enhance flavor. Potassium is found in colorful plant based foods. A quick overview of the standard American diet will quickly show consumption of foods that have flavor enhancers added to them, but yet are significantly lacking in meaningful vegetable and fruit intake.
8. Fiber content – One of the initial questions that I ask in my workups is if someone has adequate bowel motility. Many people struggle to have a good bowel movement every day. This is a problem that can be traced back to lack of fiber in the diet. While not the only cause, numerous Americans consume a diet that contains less than required amount of fiber needed each day. As part of the food refining process, when the nutrients are taken out, so is the fiber.
9. Grains – As the base of the traditional food pyramid, one would think that grains should be a staple of the diet. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the consumption of mostly grains as part of the standard American Diet is related to the upswing in many chronic diseases. Found in nearly all processed foods in one form or another, grains are hard to avoid in the standard American Diet. Yet they have several negative effects on our health including increasing inflammation, promoting glucose imbalances that can lead to diabetes over time, disrupting the balance of the gastrointestinal tract and leading to immune system dysfunction.
10. Dairy – Milk does not do a body good contrary to popular belief. Unquestionably one of the most common foods to show up on food sensitivity testing is dairy in my experience. Much like grains, dairy is known for its ability to create immune reactions that manifest as allergies, skin outbreaks, chronic congestion, and constipation. You also have to wonder about a food that has been linked to type I diabetes onset.
11. GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) – Would you eat corn that had been crossbred with bacteria? I think most of you would answer no to this question. Apart from any of the science to support why you would not want to do this, commonsense suggests that something is wrong with the idea of crossing corn and bacteria. This is the case for many of the foods that are part of the standard American Diet. These foods are genetically modified organisms, or GMO. These foods have been genetically manipulated to have specific characteristics. However, as a result, they are different. While biotechnology groups may argue for their safety, the growing amount of research against GMO says otherwise.
12. Food is now an industry – Do you know where the food you ate for dinner last night came from? If you answered no, then you are just like most other individuals. The standard American Diet has evolved from an industry that controls our food. When possible, it is always better to deal locally and buy home grown food that you know the origin of. Foods that travel from distant locations to make it to the grocery store shelf are picked before becoming ripe thus losing nutrients, are likely sprayed with toxic chemicals to improve their appearance and often are genetically modified.
13. Lacks color, Paleo diet is full of color – The standard American Diet is a brown and white diet. Grains and dairy, which predominant in the standard American Diet have no color. We should be eating foods with color. If you have ever heard the saying eat a rainbow of food, there was a reason. These are the foods that are the most nutrient dense. Food that has color has life. Food that is devoid of color does not have life and cannot support your overall health.
14. SAD is monotonous – If you like the same thing over and over, then you are likely a fan of the standard American Diet. However, I will let you in on a little secret. Your body does not like monotony. Eating the same thing repeatedly increases the probability of food allergies and sensitivities. Moreover, if you are eating the same foods, you are limiting the amount of nutrients that you are exposed to. You need a variety of foods to acquire all of the nutrients that your body requires. We are not meant to eat the same foods over and over, but rather to enjoy a large variety of foods.
15. Chicken and beef, but no fish and wild game – The two meats that seem to be the most common in the standard American Diet are beef and chicken. These two meats can easily be considered the protein staples. This is a problem however unless you are consuming free range or grass fed sources. Most of the chicken and beef in the United States is also the result of the agriculture and food industry complex. These meats lack the same nutrient and fat profile as wild meats. These same meats are consuming the grains that I previously mentioned were not a good source of food. Therefore, some of the negative impact of them consuming these grains is passed along to us by consuming this meat. Moreover, even if you do get quality sources of these proteins, the limitation of consuming a narrow array of proteins increases the risk of developing a food reaction to these foods.
16. Toxicity of the SAD – Would you eat the herbicide weed killer Round Up? No! However if you are not controlling the source of your produce, this may very well be just one of the chemicals that you are ingesting. This is just an additional substance that your body has to detoxify and attempt to remove from your system. Moreover, it has been confirmed that foods sprayed with these types of chemicals have a lower nutrient value.
17. Ability to Support Probiotics vs damaging probiotics – Probiotics are the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract that work with us. We as humans have a commensal relationship with them. They provide us with nutrients, help support our immune system and bowel health and protect us from invading microorganisms. They can provide all of this benefit so long as we give them the things that they need. This includes foods that they can work with, specifically those with higher fiber content and richer in color. Unfortunately, this does not include what is eaten as part of the standard American Diet. As a result, all of the benefit that we should have from probiotics is lacking when we don’t give them what they need through diet.
18. Use of antibiotics and hormones – These chemicals have been implicated in everything from increasing the early onset of secondary sexual characteristics in young females to damaging the probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. At a minimum antibiotics and hormones are more unnatural chemicals that when entering our body have to be detoxified. If you are eating meats found in the standard American Diet from fast food sources or other unknown locations, the probability that you are consuming these chemicals is high
Standard American Diet – The Final Decision
After seeing the facts highlighting the problems with the standard American Diet, I ask you, is this dietary pattern one that you want to stay on? Do you like consuming foods with an uncertain origin, that are covered in toxins and that are genetically manipulated? If you continue to eat this monotonous diet that lacks adequate nutrients, there is no question that chronic disease is in your future.
However, if you are interested in offsetting the effects of the standard American Diet, the choice is easy. Eat a diet that is nutrient dense, promotes good health, and offers a large variety of foods for you to partake in. Diet of this type can be considered whole foods and a lot of other names. I prefer to call is the Paleo Diet. Rather than a diet, it is a dietary pattern that shuns all of the characteristics of the standard American Diet. Rather, it replaces them with the principles of eating that the human body most benefits from. In short, knowing the 18 reasons to avoid the standard American Diet is made much easier so long as you just eat real foods in their natural state as are found in the Paleo Diet.