Processed Foods and Their Implications for Public Health in Western Societies (Western Diets vs Eastern Cuisine)

Foods & DrinksFood

  • Author Yu Chen Liao And Glen Jude Bowen
  • Published September 6, 2023
  • Word count 703

In the heart of Western supermarkets, entire aisles are dedicated to foods in brightly colored packaging, each item promising convenience and flavor. In stark contrast, wander through the bustling markets of Taiwan or Sri Lanka, and one is greeted with the earthy scent of fresh produce and the vibrant colors of nature’s bounty. The Western world’s penchant for processed foods is not only an issue of culture but also a concern for health.

Dr. Jane Goodall, the eminent primatologist, once said, “How is it possible that the most intellectual creature to ever walk planet Earth is destroying its only home?” This quote can also resonate with the way our diets have evolved. The surge in processed foods, prevalent in Western nations, can be viewed as a step away from our natural roots, and in many ways, a step away from optimal health.

Western Processed Diet Vs. Eastern Fresh Fare

At its core, a processed food is one that has been altered from its natural state, often for the sake of convenience, longer shelf life, or flavor enhancement. These foods often contain additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Western countries, with their fast-paced lifestyles, have seen a steep rise in the consumption of such foods. A 2019 study showed that in the US, ultra-processed foods constituted almost 60% of the total dietary energy consumed.

In contrast, countries like Taiwan and Sri Lanka have a deeply-rooted culture of consuming foods in their natural or minimally processed state. Rice, fresh vegetables, fruits, and seafood form the staple diet, often flavored with herbs and spices rather than artificial flavorings.

The Experts Weigh In

Many nutritionists and biologists have expressed concern about the health implications of a heavily processed diet. Michael Pollan, a renowned author and journalist known for his critique on Western diet, advises, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Processed foods are linked to a range of health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), high consumption of processed meats increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Moreover, the added sugars and salts in these foods are notorious for spiking obesity, hypertension, and heart disease rates.

On the other hand, a diet based on natural foods, similar to what’s predominantly consumed in Taiwan and Sri Lanka, boasts numerous health benefits. Dr. David Ludwig, a leading nutritionist at Harvard University, notes, “Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, whereas processed foods can fan the flames of inflammation.”

Advocacy Against Processed Foods

Several organizations and famous individuals have spoken against the overwhelming presence of processed foods in our diets. Jamie Oliver, the celebrated chef, and advocate for food education, has been vocal about introducing healthier, more natural diets to school cafeterias and eliminating junk food. His campaigns stress the importance of understanding where our food comes from and the benefits of natural, fresh ingredients.

Furthermore, the Slow Food Movement, founded in 1989, opposes the standardization of taste and champions the preservation of regional cuisines, local plant varieties, and traditional ways of preparing food. They advocate for a global shift towards more sustainable and healthier diets.

The Road Ahead

While it may seem that Western countries are deeply entrenched in a processed food culture, change is possible. With increasing awareness, many are now advocating for farm-to-table experiences, community gardens, and promoting fresh, local produce. But there's a long road ahead. Transitioning away from processed foods requires a holistic approach, involving not just individuals, but also policymakers, schools, and businesses.

As Dr. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, aptly puts it, “The first thing to do is to get processed foods out of your diet. Processed foods are not designed for health. They are designed for profit.”

In conclusion, while the Western world's reliance on processed foods has cultural and convenience-based roots, there's undeniable evidence highlighting its health repercussions. Countries like Taiwan and Sri Lanka serve as reminders of the beauty and benefits of a natural food-based diet. As the movement against processed foods gains momentum, one can only hope for a global dietary shift towards health, longevity, and sustainability.

Yu Chen Liao is a postgraduate in Marketing Management with a background in Food and Nutrition. Glen Jude Bowen is a postgraduate in engineering who is a valedictorian in biology and also has experience in research and innovation, and strategic marketing. Together, they delve into a prominent issue regarding processed, convenient food in the western world.

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Article comments

Ryan J.
Ryan J. · 2 months ago
Great work by both researchers