How Nutritious is the Typical Western Diet?
Hot off the back of news that 10 a day is the shiny new target when it comes to eating fruit and veg, we recently took on the Nutri Advanced 10 a Day challenge to find out if it really is possible to consume this amount on a daily basis. The challenge was a huge success and sharpened our focus on what it actually takes to up your intake to this level.
The challenge also prompted an insightful office conversation about just how stark the contrast is between a day that is packed with fruits and vegetables and a typical Western diet. There’s nothing quite as powerful as seeing this in real terms so we decided to re-create a ‘typical Western diet day’.
Here’s a typical 'Western' day in pictures and an overview of what you can expect ‘nutritionally’ from a diet like this…
To start the day: Instant black coffee
Breakfast: Cornflakes with semi-skimmed milk & glass of fresh orange juice
Snack: Instant black coffee & cereal bar
Lunch: Supermarket meal deal – ham, cheese & pickle sandwich, ready salted crisps, bottle of diet cola
Snack: Instant black coffee & 2 x biscuits
Evening meal: Ready meal – spaghetti, meatballs, tomato sauce & cheese / chocolate mousse pot
What can you expect ‘nutritionally’ from a day like this?
What’s interesting about this day's intake is that it comes in bang on target in terms of recommended total daily calorie intake. The NHS recommends that an average male / female adult need to consume approximately 2500 / 2000 calories daily (from a healthy balanced diet) and this day delivers 2005 calories in total. What’s absolutely crucial here though is that this isn’t a healthy balanced diet. Where you get your calories from is far more important than the total amount of calories you eat – hence why calorie counting in isolation is a completely ineffective way of supporting optimal health and of losing or maintaining a healthy weight. We don’t advocate calorie counting as a path to a healthy diet but many people still go straight to the calories when making food choices so that’s why this point is made first. Make your food choices based on nutritional quality not calorific quantity.
There’s no single ratio that will suit everyone and individual needs will vary depending on many different factors such as your age and activity level. As a general guideline however, somewhere between 45 – 65% of your total daily intake should be from carbohydrates, between 10 – 35% from protein and 20 – 35% from fat. This day delivers a carb / protein / fat ratio of 61% / 18% / 21%. For most people (unless you’re an athlete and doing lots of daily strenuous activity) the carbohydrate level in this day is edging towards being too high and the fat and protein levels are on the low side. And when you delve a bit deeper what’s even more significant is the poor quality of macronutrients in this diet. The carbs are mainly fast-acting refined types (cornflakes/cereal bar) which can give you energy highs and lows, leaving you feeling drained and craving more sugar, the protein is predominantly low quality (processed meatballs / processed cheese) and the fats are mainly in the form of saturated and mono-unsaturated; lacking in essential and super healthy polyunsaturated omega 3 fats.
It’s almost impossible to completely control your salt intake when you eat predominantly refined and processed foods. This day provides salt levels that are on the high side, and which over time can contribute to high blood pressure.
This day delivers 330mg caffeine – anything up to 400mg daily is considered to be safe for most adults, however this amount of caffeine may certainly disrupt your blood sugar balance and affect your energy, mood and concentration throughout the day.
The addition of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame K is bad news for anyone wanting to lose or maintain a healthy weight and most probably bad news for your overall health too. Read more about artificial sweeteners and weight gain here.
Whilst some of the essential vitamins and minerals featured in this diet are naturally occurring (vitamin C from orange juice & tomatoes / calcium from milk / iron, B12 from meatballs) many (B vitamins, vitamin D & iron in particular) come from fortified foods (cereal / bread / cereal bar). And what's particularly lacking is foods rich in crucial nutrients such as magnesium found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, vitamin E found in avocado, almonds and spinach, beta-carotene found in fruits and vegetables with orange flesh such as carrots and butternut squash, essential omega 3 fats from nuts, seeds and oily fish, and many more.
Fruit and veg
This day delivers a measly 1.5 - 2 portions of fruit and veg (fresh orange juice / tomato-based sauce / salad in sandwich). When you consider the latest 10-a-day recommendations, this is one of the saddest failings of this typical Western day. The health benefits of eating plenty of fruit and veg are far too numerous to list and include balanced energy, mood, cognition, ability to fight infections, detoxify harmful substances and deal with damaging free radicals and even vastly reduced risks of many common chronic diseases including some cancers and much more.
Stuck in a Western rut? Start with one small change…
And the list could go on and on. It doesn’t take long to realise that a typical Western diet like this should come with a health warning. And whilst it can seem daunting to completely overhaul your diet if you’ve noticed familiar habits and got stuck in the Western diet rut, just remember that anything you can do will make a difference, and that one small change often leads to another, then another and many more…
Nutritional Analysis of the 'Western' Day
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