How Does the Western Diet Impact Your Immune System in the Long Run
And How to Ditch it For Good
When we talk about the Western diet, we are most often referring to a diet that is full of processed foods, high in sugar, dense in calories, but also full of flavor.
In the Western world, we are often faced with the issue of healthy eating simply not fitting into our lifestyle or schedule. We eat out, we get fast food in a drive-through, we order takeout, and we focus on eating anything when we are hungry, as opposed to fueling our bodies with healthy nutrients that will boost our wellbeing and health.
Is our diet impacting our health in more than one negative way? Is it damaging our immunity, and how can we hope to recover if this is the case?
The Western diet and inflammation
Research conducted at the University of Bonn has found that in the long term, the Western diet (the Western diet, in this case, was taken to consist of fast food and foods that were high in calories, high in fat, and low in fiber) can cause the immune system to become hyper-responsive to inflammation triggers. In fact, even switching to a healthy diet can’t undo some of the damage that has been caused.
Inflammation can play a part in illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and arteriosclerosis, to name but a few.
In fact, inflammation is one of the most devastating processes we can cause in our bodies, especially in the long term and if left unchecked. It is a breeding ground for compromised immunity, thus opening the doors to other diseases and conditions as well.
The Western diet and gut microbiome
A review by the National Institutes of Health has looked into how the way we eat today will impact our lives and the lives of our future children.
It has found that our diet not only contributes to obesity (which it certainly does), but that it leads to other complications. Obese people tend to have lower white blood cell counts (which are used by the body to combat all sorts of infections), and the ones they do have don’t perform very well either.
Simple sugars (found in a lot of the foods eaten by the Western world) reduce white blood cell phagocytosis. Sodium may also have the same effect, as can saturated fats.
What these kinds of food do is alter the microbiome in our gut. The inflammation they cause leads to an altered environment in the digestive tract, which shifts the functions of cell membranes and changes nutrient availability. This, in turn, causes the favoring of microorganisms that are less beneficial than others.
What’s even more alarming is that this diet can shape the lives of future generations: a mother’s diet can impact her unborn children down to the food they like to eat. But, it can also impact their microbiome, which can cause autoimmune and allergic diseases later on in life.
While all of this certainly sounds frightening, the question is how can we combat it?
A voice for a healthier diet
We all already know what a healthy diet consists of: less processed foods, much less sugar and saturated fats, less alcohol and caffeine, and foods that are richer in nutrients. This means fresh fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat, healthy fats, plenty of fiber, and more water.
However, eating healthier is often a challenge. After all, we are bombarded and literally surrounded by the bad choices. Finding a healthy meal can often be an uphill battle, especially when our brains and taste buds know that something unhealthy will taste great.
The best way to get off the Western diet is to start meal planning and meal prepping. That way, you will know exactly what you are eating, and how good or bad it is for you. Switching to an AIP meal plan – a dietary regime designed to work against your autoimmune disorders – can help you base your meals on foods that are delicious and much better for you.
It will take your mind and body some time to get used to it – but once you get over the cravings (which you are going to have), you will no longer even want to eat a burger, a side of fries and onion rings, and that large shake. Your body will be off it and appreciate the better fuel you’re giving it.
The Western diet is our response to the modern way of life: fast-paced, stressful, jam-packed and demanding.
However, in order to combat the negative effects of the Western lifestyle, we need to take a step away from the Western diet. With some conscious effort and meal planning, we can return to a healthier, more fulfilling way of eating.