How SAD is the Standard American Diet?

America is in a troubled place right now.

Leaving aside the recent chaos that began in Minneapolis, and the leadership crisis they have in the White house, its 328 million people are under siege from their own food choices. While the temporary nature of the rioting will pass when the media eventually gets bored of covering it or it no longer stimulates clicks, likes, posts and reactions across the fickle social media world, the deep systemic problems arising from the food culture in America will be its ultimate demise in my opinion.

I once heard the fantastic Dr. Zach Bush tell Rich Roll on his podcast, that the Russians now believe that the biggest threat to US national security is its healthcare system as over time, as the health of America declines rapidly due to its toxic and disease promoting food culture, the healthcare system will suck every available dollar up from government department budgets, leaving national security underfunded and vulnerable. If that scenario does indeed come to pass, the dark days of today will seem like shining lights of the past.

So what is the SAD anyway?

The Western diet or Standard American diet (SAD for short), is the typical diet consumed in the United States of America. This diet is rich in red meat, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, and salt, with minimal intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains.

It came about initially as a result of the Neolithic revolution which introduced domesticated meats, sugar, alcohol, salt, cereal grains, and dairy products but the modern SAD emerged after the Industrial Revolution which introduced new food processing methods including the addition of cereals, refined sugars and oils.

Based on these cultural and industrial influences, eating this way has seen 64.5% of Americans become either overweight or obese (1). Those who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for many diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and many cancers (2).

In stark contrast, and still on American soil, only 60 miles east of Los Angeles is the town of Loma Linda which is home to a population of around 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists.

Members of this community follow a faith that expressly discourages smoking, alcohol consumption, or eating foods deemed to be unclean by the Bible, such as pork.

In fact, the religion discourages the consumption of meat in general, as well as caffeine and other stimulants and spices. Some of the more conservative Adventists don’t believe in going to the movies or theatres or indulging in any other form of popular culture. The observe “the Sabbath” from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday where there is time to reconnect with family and friends, to indulge in nature and attend religious sermons. A vegetarian dietary approach is commonplace.

This approach to life and food has produced some of the longest living centenarians in the world. Loma Linda featured in a book called the Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, the aim of which was to uncover the secrets to longevity by studying the lives and habits of people that are living the longest.

The 2 charts in this article are nearly polar opposites of each other. I find it a staggering comparison.

This population were first studied as part of the Adventist Health Study (AHS-1), which looked at nearly 34,000 Californian Adventists aged over 25 from 1974 – 1988. A follow up study, called AHS-2, began gathering data on 96,000 Adventists from all 50 States and Canada between 2001 – 2007. It showed that the closer you are to being a vegetarian, the lower the health risk is for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes was 50% less in vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians (3).

Comparing the westernised Standard American diet with the holistic approach taken by the Adventists, it highlights how powerful food, lifestyle and your own personal beliefs really are and how much difference they can make to your own health and longevity.

Yours in health and happiness,