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The Impacts Of A Western Diet On Immunity

The Impacts Of A Western Diet On Immunity

In today’s fast-paced world, with busy schedules and countless time commitments, eating habits have changed. Whether it’s overindulging in certain foods because of holidays or other social engagements that center around eating, or grabbing a quick takeout bite because a schedule doesn’t allow time to cook up a healthy meal, many people in the Western world aren’t eating as well as they could be.

Convenience and indulgence are often identified as key components of the Western diet. But what is the Western diet, exactly? And what are the impacts of a Western diet on immunity?

What is the Western diet?

The Western diet, otherwise known as the Western Pattern Diet (WPD) or the Standard American Diet (SAD), is the style of eating that many people in the Western world have adopted. The foods filling up the plates of those who stick to a Western diet tend to include: 

  • Heavily processed foods
  • Red meat
  • High-fat dairy products
  • High-sugar foods
  • Pre-packaged foods that contain little to no real nutritional value

These types of foods can be purchased at grocery stores, restaurants, and fast food joints all across the country. On the other hand, foods that tend to be lacking in a Western diet include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats
  • Plant-based protein sources
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

In the Western world, it can be extremely hard to escape the Western diet for many reasons. Time, money, and even the ability to find unprocessed foods can make things difficult for many people. But while it may be hard to avoid, this type of diet can have some serious negative effects on overall health.


Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash: How does the Western diet affect immunity?


Is the Western diet inflammatory?

The Western diet is highly centered around foods that can cause systemic inflammation within the body. To see just how inflammatory each food is, let’s break them down into their separate categories.

  • Processed foods: Processed foods have been significantly altered to preserve shelf-life. Studies have shown that eating processed foods can cause high levels of inflammation because they actually change gut bacteria composition. When this happens, the immune system may fall into an imbalanced state, leading to a triggering of systemic inflammation.
  • Processed red meat: This type of red meat contains a substance known as AGE, which has been shown to induce inflammation in the body. Red meat also contains saturated fats, which have been shown to increase inflammation by causing issues with how immune cells function and communicate.
  • High-fat dairy: High-fat dairy is also on the list of inflammatory foods because of its high saturated fat content.
  • Sugar: While the body needs sugar, too much of it can cause a host of different problems. Research has found that when someone consumes a lot of sugar, it encourages the production of free fatty acids in the liver. When those fatty acids are produced and digested, it triggers the body to start the processes that drive systemic inflammation.

If you eat the aforementioned foods on occasion, you aren’t likely to suffer long-term from inflammation. However, if you’re in the habit of consuming these foods at every meal and every day, inflammation is unavoidable.

The connection between the Western diet and immunity

The inflammatory process is part of the immune process. When a pathogen or harmful substance enters the body, inflammation is triggered to localize an attack by immune cells to target and kill the pathogen. Essentially, inflammation is a process that is designed to protect you. But when inflammation becomes chronic and affects the whole body, it takes a severe toll on overall health.

As mentioned above, immune cells are greatly influenced by the Western diet. This is especially true for immune cells that live within the gut. Gut bacteria rely heavily on other cells, such as immune cells, and vice versa. The gut microbiome and other systems within the body that rely on gut health all have to work symbiotically.


Image by Jay Wennington on Unsplash: Does the Western diet cause inflammation?


Research has found that gut bacteria and immune cells within the gut can both become damaged by the western diet. This leads to gut imbalances as well as problems with how the immune system functions from the gut. The end result is an immune system that works well below its capacity.

Furthermore, when a person consumes only foods from the Western diet’s repertoire, they are less likely to be getting the nutrients that are needed to help the immune system function as it should.

How does the Western diet contribute to major diseases?

Almost all preventable diseases can be somewhat connected to the Western diet. This includes cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and even mental illness. Because the Western diet lacks vital nutrients and promotes chronic inflammation, it can wreak havoc on the body as a whole.

Gut health and immune health both play a role in preventable disease. When it comes to gut health, research has found that if gut bacteria is out of balance, it can lead to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and obesity. Obesity can also lead to further diseases if it is not addressed promptly.

While it can be hard to avoid the Western diet for many reasons, it’s a good idea to take stock of what you’re putting into your body and learn what you can do to improve your diet and lower your risk of illness.


Featured image by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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