Wanted: the Western Diet

Saturday Dec 12 | BY |
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Wanted poster wild west style with nails torn edges and bullet holes

I remember the first time I came across the word “SAD Diet” while reading a health book. I smiled when I discovered that it meant “Standard American Diet.” What a clever acronym, I thought!

Indeed, the American diet is a pretty “sad” story.

But as my thinking evolved, I realized that the SAD diet could be any modern diet that causes diseases of affluence.

If we think of the SAD diet as an American phenomenon, we might be tempted to think of another ethnic diet as infinitely better, for example, the Thai, Indian or Italian diet. Although, in their most traditional forms, these diets can be very healthy, we almost never encounter them as such anymore. For example, I’ve never come across a Thai restaurant that served truly traditional Thai food as was common before 1950, which would have been very low in fat and simple.

Modern Thai, American, Indian, Chinese, Italian or French restaurants serve modern versions of their ethnic cuisine.

They all have one thing in common: they all serve WESTERN food.

Yes, even Asian food has been westernized and the qualification of “SAD” can apply to it.

Ok, so why does this matter?

It matters because Western diets come hand in hand with Western diseases.

A Western diet is not necessarily a diet of foods commonly found in America or Europe. It’s any diet that has any the following characteristics. The more items you can check on the list, the more “Westernized” the diet is.

  • Animal products (eggs, fish, meat, chicken, dairy, butter, etc.). Not used as condiments but rather as a centerpiece of the meal. In most traditional societies, including all the long-lived cultures of the world, animal products were scarce and used occasionally. A piece of meat that would feed one person for one meal in American would feed an entire family for a week in Asia countries.
  • Regular consumption of vegetable oils. Vegetable oils were scarce in the past and not used as much as they are today.
  • Regular consumption of processed flours and sugars. Processed sugars and flours were unknown in the past. Bread was coarse and tough to chew — not the fluffy thing we use for sandwiches today. White sugar did not exist.
  • Liquid calories. Includes alcohol, fruit juice, sodas, etc. In traditional diets, those just didn’t exist or were consumed sparingly.
  • Lots of sodium — Although Asian cuisine now contains a lot of sodium, it wasn’t always like that in the past. In general, very little salt is used in many traditional diets. In some cases, salt is unknown.

A Western diet is a RICH diet. It’s a diet full of foods that were previously considered delicacies in the past. It’s like eating cake every day instead of once a year on your birthday.

Examples of Rich Foods

  • Vegetable oil, mayonnaise, rich sauces, butter
  • Eggs
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Meat
  • Wine, beer, spirits
  • Ice Cream
  • White bread, pastries, muffins, panini bread, croissants, etc.
  • Coconut cream/milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Cakes, chocolate

Traditional Diets, on the other hand, are based on foods of much lower caloric density, like sweet potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, fruit, etc.

It’s pretty easy to tell when a population is eating a Western diet: you simply have to look at the diseases that are prevalent in that population, and you’ll know.

The following diseases are all caused by the Western diet:

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 and type 1 diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Colorectal, prostate and breast cancers
  • Many auto-immune diseases
  • Alcoholism

Those diseases were impossible to find in populations that ate a very traditional and non-Western diet.

Cancer does occur in nature and even in some animals, so it’s not always caused by diet alone. But the rates of some cancers are so much higher in Western countries that we know that they are mostly caused by the Western diet and lifestyle.

Every Country Is Becoming Westernized

There was a time when we could compare different populations in the world and be stunned to find that some diseases that are so common in the West were impossible to find in other populations.

We’re now reaching a point where such comparisons are no longer possible or relevant because every country in the world is becoming westernized.

Okinawa once boasted the longest-lived populations in the world. Now 47% of Okinawan men aged 20-60 are considered overweight. Heart disease is rampant.

For thousands of years, the health worry in Asia was with infectious diseases, famine, and malnutrition. Now that prosperity has reached the Eastern shores, they can worry instead about heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

According to Time magazine, “80% of global CVD-related deaths now occur in low and middle-income nations which covers most countries in Asia.”

Anytime you see diseases of affluence popping up, you can be sure that the population is eating a Western diet. The two go hand-in-hand.

A particularity of a Western diet is the combination of two elements:

  • High-fat diet (30%+) that uses vegetable oils and animal foods at most meals
  • Refined carbohydrates in the 30+% range of total calories

Some people design diets that remove carbohydrates from the diet, therefore creating a “Western Diet Lite” – full of animal products and fat but without starches and sugar.

But a true non-Western diet that leads to health is based on plant foods and makes a limited use of rich foods. Also, it’s a total lifestyle where you’re active and don’t take in more calories than you burn.

Here are some easy ways to de-westernize your diet and eliminate your risk of dying or suffering from the most common modern diseases.

Skip breakfast. Intermittent fasting works and most people can benefit from it. Most traditional cultures ate only two meals a day rather than three. Unless you’re very active and need the calories, you’re probably not truly hungry for breakfast anyway and could benefit from a few extra hours of fasting. Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase longevity and improve health in many ways.

Base your diet on a few simple starches, such as rice, beans, potatoes or sweet potatoes. Add in fresh vegetables and fruit. This is the “Starch Solution” of Dr. McDougall. Add seasonings to taste. For example, lunch can be a big quinoa salad with cooked chickpeas, raw tomatoes, raw cucumbers, some chopped up herbs and onion, and a few slices of avocados. Dinner can be bean tacos with corn tortillas, black beans (whole or pureed) topped with fresh or canned salsa and hot sauce! A winner every time. Use nuts, seeds and avocados according to your energy needs.

– For faster healing and fat loss, try a raw or high-raw diet. Replace one or more cooked meal with a raw meal, but make sure you eat enough fruit to get the calories you need.

– Eliminate oils from your diet or use them only on occasion and extremely sparingly.

– If you stray off the diet, make it a rare occasion, like traditional societies did in the past. They would slaughter a pig for a big feast, but not eat meat every day of the year. Eat cake for your birthday if you’d like, but don’t make it an every day or even an every-week thing!

– Don’t consume any liquid calories except on special occasion.

– Don’t cook with salt and don’t eat processed foods. Watch out for restaurant food. If desired, add salt to the surface of food after cooking. That’s where you can taste it the most. Doing this will keep you well under the upper limits for sodium consumption.

Diet and nutrition can be confusing, and journalists love to confuse the public with big headlines and studies of dubious value. One week, coffee is thought to be healthy and the next week, we learn that it can raise cholesterol levels. The average person will think “why bother if they can’t make up their mind? I’ll just eat whatever I want.”

In reality, nutrition is simple.

Don’t eat a Western diet and you’ll avoid Western diseases of affluence.

Eat whole plant foods (starches or fruit) as the main source of your calories. Eat vegetables. Don’t eat rich foods except on special occasions. That’s it! Add a form of exercise that you like and can incorporate into your life.

Doing that alone will save you from 75% of the diseases most people end up dying from in our world and will add at least ten good years to your life!

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Laurie says:

    Good article. I’m just wondering, you say no vegetable oils, but what about nut oils like almond or walnut oil? Are they acceptable?

    • I would apply it to all oils, but not used on the skin. Oil on the skin is fine. Eating whole walnuts has much more benefits than consuming walnut oil, for example. Same for every oil made from nut, seed, olive, avocado, etc.

  2. Walt Merrill says:

    Hi Frederic, I’ve suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 10+ years. After my diagnosis with RA, I decided major joint replacement surgery or a wheelchair were not for me. So I changed my nutrition, no fast, junk,diet,processed foods, no sodas! Instead I ate organic fresh fruits and vegetables 8-10 glasses of water daily, to help clean up my gut. Eventually I began to greatly improve my lifestyle. At my worst point I needed a walker to move, now I can play golf again and walk with no pain. So happy with my recovery, I dedicated my life to helping and mentoring all autoimmune disease sufferers around the world. To help me accomplish this goal, I wrote my true life story, “Arthritis: How I Conquered It ” now on Amazon – FREE to all Kindle Members. Please check it out! Thanks, stay happy and healthy! Walt Merrill

  3. Great article. I really learned some good things from it. Thank you. It was a good read.

  4. The article is very interesting. However, I was under the impression that we need to eat plenty of good quality fats i.e. Coconut oil, Virgin Olive Oil, nut and seed oil etc. in order to absorb the nutrients in veges and fruits. Also there is no mention of fermented foods which are of vital importance for a healthy digestive system and a slim body. I would be interested to have your coments. Thanks.

  5. I’m not sure I’d agree with your assessment of the “Western Diet Lite” diet leading to “health improvements and lower body weight.” Other than that, an excellent assessment of the state of nutrition in the world these days.

  6. Judi Reygan says:

    I love your work. It all makes total sense to me and I love eating this way – one question –

    My partner and I are both extremely skinny – underweight by most people’s standards, so struggle to keep any weight/muscle on our bodies. My partner feels he will disappear completely unless he piles on the carbs/fats and eggs/milk/ meat.

    Can you advise what foods we should concentrate on or add to the above suggestions in order to address this problem. I think we struggle to consume enough calories on this kind of food although it’s what I’m drawn to eat. I’m long time vegan and want to stay that way.

    • I’m not sure what “skinny” means, in your partner’s case. You said that by most people’s standards you guys are skinny. But the standards in America are 20 pounds overweight. For example, a man of 5’10” weighing 149 pounds considered “too skinny” by American standards from 2015, but is rarely truly too skinny. For women, body fat levels should be above 11% for health. For men, it should be above 5%. It’s rare to meet someone with body fat levels under that. Muscle mass is another thing. To gain muscle, you must lift weight and get enough calories. Since you mentioned that keeping muscle on is an issue. To gain weight or get enough calories, you simply must follow opposite advice: eat less raw foods, more cooked foods (and fruit), and more fat from whole food sources (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.) McDougall had a good newsletter on this: https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2003nl/jul/030700puhowdoigainweight.htm

  7. All extremely sound advice. Whether or not people will follow it to the T is another story.

    The overwhelm factor that you mentioned is a big influence on many of my friends and family, and I think it is one of the main reasons so many people are content with the notion that eating all the animal products and “rich” foods they want is ok as long as they “limit” their carbs, avoid dairy, and eat ‘clean’…

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