Nutrition has long been a well-known factor in overall health, but only recently have researchers begun to uncover just how significant effect eating habits can have on the body. Certain habits, in particular, are linked with poor health outcomes, such as widespread illness. The Western diet is especially problematic.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a startling percentage of the population is obese: nearly two-thirds of adults and one-third of children. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including an increased intake of processed foods, less exercise, and inadequate sleep.

These statistics are cause for concern, especially since diet-related health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes are experienced by roughly half of the population. These chronic illnesses are serious, and in some cases, life-threatening.

Moreover, our diet directly influences our gut health, which plays a critical role in immunity. Thus, when we don’t have the proper balance of gut bacteria, we become more likely to get sick not only on a short-term basis but also later on.

The Trouble with the Western Diet

Research shows more than half of Americans’ daily caloric intake comes from heavily processed products. These foods have ingredients that can have a negative effect on health, including saturated and trans fats, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and sodium. Examples include potato chips, white bread, frozen pizza, candy, sodas, and snack cakes. These foods are often chosen due to their convenience and affordability.

Yet, there’s a tradeoff: over the long-term, the body’s systems become affected by these eating patterns. For instance, a high-fat, high-sugar diet will reduce the number of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead systems in the body such as the immune system to malfunction.

Hunter-gatherers, who get their sustenance from natural sources, have a far more diverse collection of microflorae than individuals who follow the Western diet. Without this healthy population of gut bacteria, individuals may be more likely to experience autoimmune conditions, in which the immune system misfires and mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue.

If you want to find out exactly what your deficiencies and insufficiencies are to avoid any oncoming conditions, you will want to do a comprehensive functional medicine test. These are available to do simply at home and your results will show your exact health blueprint. Genova Diagnostics provides these tests and are available through Stemedix.

While research into the relationship between diet and autoimmune disease is ongoing, the following dietary changes can make positive impacts on your health and help you feel better:

  • Eat more plant-based foods. Look for bread and pasta products made with whole grains, along with vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
  • Reduce sugar and salt intake. Most Americans consume far too much sodium and sugar. Read the labels on packaged foods to make sure you’re not going over daily recommendations.
  • Choose healthy fats. You don’t have to steer clear of fats altogether. In fact, there are health benefits to eating certain types, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Aim to get healthy fats from sources such as nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils.
  • Shop wisely. Not all processed foods should be off-limits, either. Just because the food comes in a package doesn’t make it a poor nutritional choice. When grocery shopping, choose foods that are nutrient-dense and have undergone minimal processing. Some options include yogurt, frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans, nut butter, and hummus.
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