While our food can be our medicine, it can also be our poison. The link between illness and western diets, high in animal fats and processed foods and low in fibre, is well documented. The more we move away from whole, unprocessed foods, the more likely we are to experience negative health effects.
A western diet is associated with metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and diverticular disease, a common gastrointestinal disorder.
Metabolic syndrome starts to show up anywhere people leave behind traditional diets heavy in local non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and start chowing down on processed foods and meat. Such a diet tends to be adopted in the newly minted middle class around the world as people have more money to spend. Processed foods, while often not being as healthy, usually cost more.
In a recent study in Brazil, a group of about 300 people had their diets analyzed by researchers. The study found three distinct diets.
- Traditional diet - more common among older people
- Western diet - more common among the more educated with higher incomes
- Healthy diet - more common among the lowest income group
Thankfully, you need look no further than your garden for the antidote. Compared to meat eaters, other studies have shown that vegetarians have as much as a 36% lower rate of metabolic syndrome, as well as a 33% reduction in diverticular disease.
It was the traditional and healthy diets in the Brazil study that fared the best when it came to avoiding the illnesses found in western diets. The traditional diet was based around whole foods like beans, rice, flour, and pasta.
The healthy diet group had the least disposable income, and were therefore the ones that gardened the most. As a result they were the least likely to develop metabolic syndrome, and had the best access to local, fresh, and organic produce.
There's your medicine.