The Swan Song of the Standard American Diet

Photo by Farmer Fred

Photo by Farmer Fred

Recently I have found myself photographing some beautiful white swans while visiting Whites Mill Preserve. Because of how I'm wired, it got me thinking about swan songs as a final effort put out in the context of diets. But first, let's look at a quick definition of "swan song" to help this resonate even more:  

The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement.
— Wikipedia

A SAD Diet for the Ages

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is comprised of a lot of bad things for our health. Fast food, preservatives, high amounts of salt and sugar, GMO's, meat and dairy, etc. all are contributing factors. The response to these foods and additives ranges from media outlets letting us know they are bad for us, to government groups like the FDA promoting "balanced diets" that include meat and dairy - both of which are groups heavily correlated with a number of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. 

The biggest challenge of the Standard American Diet is the cultural one. Eating like this is ingrained in our culture. We are often busy and on the move, and eat what is convenient. McDonald's or Wendy's definitely look attractive when you only have 30 minutes to grab a bite to eat during a long work day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some American's are also very lazy - sometimes as a result of changing work environments towards little office cubicles sitting in front of a computer all day, and sometimes as a result of not having motivation to just get up and work out. After all, we know that obesity is one of the largest health problems in the USA - the main contributing factors are poor diets and a lack of exercise. 

Diseases and Health Conditions Resulting from the Standard American Diet

The website NutritionFacts put together a detailed resource about the Standard American Diet that is a useful point of reference for an unbiased look at aggregated scientific literature about the negative consequences of eating poorly. Keep in mind this list is not exclusive, and many health conditions are interrelated. For example, someone who is obese has an increased chance of having depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, etc.

Research studies have found potential links between the standard American diet and risks of the following diseases and conditions:

  • Acidosis, which may contribute to progressive muscle loss
  • Acne
  • Greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Greater risk of atherosclerosis
  • Reduced breast cancer survival
  • Greater risk for breast pain
  • Higher levels of IGF-1, a growth hormone associated with cancer risk
  • Thicker carotid arteries, linked to cardiovascular mortality risk 
  • Elevated levels of bad cholesterol
  • Increased absorption of endotoxins
  • Greater risk of enlarged prostate and heart attack
  • Dangerous types of free radicals 
  • Greater risk of heart disease 
  • Unhealthy inflammation and oxidation
  • Greater risk of inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Reduction of inner blood vessel lining functioning
  • Declining kidney function  
  • Lower back problems
  • Worsening of lung function and asthma control
  • Greater risk of pancreatic cancer
  • Greater risk of preterm delivery
  • Greater risk for prostate cancer   
  • Obesity
  • Small stools
  • Traces of toxic waste in breast milk

The Good News of the Diet Revolution

When I think back on much of my life, and take a look around at many people experiencing a lot of pain, hopped on medications prescribed by their doctors, and some even unable to walk because they are carrying around a lot of extra weight - it can legitimately make me sad. I don't say this lightly as I am typically a pretty stoic person.

When you realize how influential our diets are on our health and ability to live happily and for a long time, it becomes a really serious thing. 

The positive side of diet is that we can reclaim control. The same goes for many health problems and sicknesses you may struggle with. 

While the Standard American Diet is comprised of a lot of foods we should not eat, the opposite option as I have found is the whole food, plant-based diet. 

For some, this kind of diet may be difficult at first as many of us are not comfortable eating a lot of veggies. They are usually viewed as meal accessories to go along with meat, milk, butter, salt + sugar. Still, if you can find it in yourself to stick to this diet, you will find your tastes to start changing, and may even find yourself craving healthier foods!

The changes I went through were significant - since jumping into this new diet and taking on a healthier lifestyle, I have lost over 60 pounds and reduced many symptoms and painful effects of disease in my life. I am not an Olympian athlete, but into my 60's I feel healthier than I have in a long time, and am able to perform better at work and home.

If you ask me, the Standard American Diet is on its way out, but society still has a long way to go. These changes require every individual to take a step back and reevaluate their own health, and the sort of lifestyles they promote to their family and friends.