Today more than half of the world’s population is living in cities and it is expected that it will reach at least 70% by the year 2050. People who have a more urban lifestyle often don’t exercise as much and probably have a more “Western” type of diet.
According to David Tilman, professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota, there is a nutrition transition that is occurring around the world and there is a link between diets and health. He recently stated that as incomes go up for people around the world, they tend to choose more calories and meat in their diet. As a result there are disastrous consequences to people’s health and an increased risk of disease.
He stated that “we have a whole new group of people who are malnourished because they eat foods that are no good for them, that have no nutritional benefit”. More importantly there is a rise in the consumption of processed foods. Since processed foods are low in nutritional value, Tilman mentioned that these foods have empty calories and that diets low in fruits and vegetables can have a very strong negative impact on a person’s health.
Also on the rise is access to, and consumption of, processed foods.
A combination of processed foods and what is called the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is even worse for our health.
Standard American Diet (SAD):
The SAD diet is the over consumption of refined sugars, refined and saturated fats, too much animal protein and the reduced intake of fruits and vegetables. According to Ian Mules of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this translates to a diet high in fat, red meat, salt, sugars while being low in fiber. This results in too many calories. As well there seems to be a trend towards more fast food.
What is the Impact of the SAD Diet on Our Health?
- An increased risk in infection.
- A change in gut bacteria.
- Obesity and diabetes
- Risk of cancer.
It seems that highly processed and refined foods throw our immune system off kilter. According Mules, foods that contain fructose and palmitic acid, often found in candy bars and other foods, can cause an immune reaction.
It seems that palmitic acid confuses the body into thinking this is a bacteria,and starts an immune attack. Although this is reversible with a change in the diet.
One of the most important reasons for not following a SAD diet is realizing the damage it can do our gut microbes. Recent studies have found that a lot of our health, including brain health, begins in the gut.
According to Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at the Imperial College London, gut microbes are heavily connected with our immune system, which in turn controls inflammation in the body.
He stated that when we eat processed foods the good bacteria in the gut can be pushed out which in turn leaves us exposed to the bad bacterial.
Another statement by Nicholson was with respect to the rise in obesity and diabetes across the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2014 more than 600 million adults were considered obese globally. They also stated that 2 billion adults are considered overweight.
There is a correlation between obesity and disease. When the inflammation in the body is too high, which it often is in obese people, the risk of developing a disease such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and arthritis increases. Obese people tend to require hip and knee replacement much earlier in their lives than non-obese persons.
Another link to obesity is diabetes. In 2014 diabetes affected over 374 million people world-wide and according to the IDF Diabetes Atlas, this is rising in every country.
As well the SAD diet has been linked to the increased risk for colon and prostate cancers. Men who consume a SAD diet have a 2.5 times risk of dying from prostate cancer. The risk of colon cancer is linked to inflammation in the body and a change in the gut bacteria.
It seems that obese people have a different microbial composition that can result in cancer. Jermey Nicholson’s research found that in comparing the impact of diet in a group of South Africans and African Americans, the African Americans had 50 times the risk of developing colon cancer over the South African group.
It has been found that increased inflammation levels in the body can also damage cells in the region affected, such as the colon which results in a higher turnover of cells. The more cells replicate, the more chances there are for mutations in the genes they contain and this increases the risk of cancer.
You Have a Choice!
Yes, diet has a large role in the health of the population and when it comes to improving personal health, experts stress the need to take more note of what we are eating and the affect it can have on our health and well-being.
What will you choose?