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What We Eat – the “Western” Diet

The rate of type 2 diabetes cases in the United States has exploded over the past 20 years – currently, about one-third of the entire U.S. population has type 2 diabetes or “prediabetes.” Our aging population contributes to the high rate to some extent, and so does less physical activity and higher levels of stress. But, the link between the “western” diet and type 2 diabetes can be traced around the world as our eating habits, and our fast track to higher rates of type 2 diabetes, are adopted by country after country.

The term “western diet” describes a general eating pattern high in saturated fats and “empty” carbohydrates (i.e. “junk” food- sugar without nutrition) which is linked to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and heart disease. Personally, I think the general definition is lacking specifics, and specifics are important. After all, if the “western” diet is responsible for triggering type 2 diabetes, then you could correctly assume that same the “western” diet would be the worst possible solution to managing diabetes after your diagnosis.

If you want a specific look at the “western” diet there’s no better place than data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The nutrition data collected in the 2005-2006 survey (and cited in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans) actually lists the top 25 sources of calories for a statistical sample of the U.S population older than 2. Note the position and average daily calories from the following food categories, which, in a healthier eating plan, might be recommended only in moderation:

#1- “grain-based desserts” (cookies, donuts, cake, etc.) at 138 calories per day
#2- yeast breads at 134 calories per day
#4- sweetened soda/sports/energy drinks at 112 calories per day
#5- pizza at 86 calories per day
#6- alcoholic beverages at 82 calories per day
#7- pasta and pasta dishes at 81 calories per day
#8- tacos/burritos/tortilla at 80 calories per day
#10- dairy desserts (ice cream) at 58 calories per day
#11- potato/corn/ other chips at 56 calories per day

The top 25 sources of calories also includes “ready to eat cereals”, “burgers”, “sausage/bacon/hot dogs”, “fried white potatoes”, “muffins/biscuits/cornbread”, “rice and rice dishes”, and “cold cuts.”

This quick view of specifically what we eat in our “western” diet may give you a better picture of the challenge diabetes management presents – old habits die hard, as the saying goes. Many different eating patterns can work well for diabetes management. The “western” diet – what we eat – simply does not.

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