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  • Writer's pictureZach L

What Singaporeans Can Learn from the SAD Eating Habits of the West

Updated: Feb 7

The Standard American Diet (SAD) paradoxically leads to both obesity and malnutrition
The Standard American Diet (SAD) paradoxically leads to both obesity and malnutrition

In a city like Singapore, time is of the essence. Work and productivity has its demands. As a result, it can be difficult to make the time to eat healthy. The instant noodles we keep in our desk drawer are convenient, but are they ideal?

Rice and Noodles, favs here in Asia, just as french fries and drive-up windows are in America, are great for convenience, but these options don't provide a lot of nutrition. It's merely fuel, and as adults, we have plenty of fuel stored away in all the places we don't want it - our bellies, thighs, and under our chin.

What we lack, however, is genuine nutrition. This blog will explain the difference between food and actual nutrition and how replacing 3-4 carb-heavy, convenience-based meals per week with leaner, more sensible options such as vegetables or lean protein, will not only help you lose unwanted fat, but will re-condition you to enjoy eating healthy.

The SAD Diet - America's Unique Guide to Obesity AND Malnutrition

Have you heard of the SAD Diet? I'm not talking about the holidays when it's ok to go wild on sweets and junk food, I'm talking about the Standard American Diet - Fast food culture on steroids. That's not an exaggeration. Steroids are hormones and the processed meats that American consume on a daily basis are loaded with them.

There are a lot of things wrong with the appropriately accronym'd SAD diet. It's complicated, but it's all part of the fast food culture that America has become accustomed to. Without getting into the weeds about America's dependence on automobiles, I want to explain how it is possible to be obese while also being malnourished.

What Singaporeans Can Learn from the Great American Nutritional Paradox

The paradox of being overweight yet malnourished is a prevalent and disturbing issue in the United States. This is LARGELY the result of dietary imbalances and the overconsumption of energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods. The unfortunate truth is that Americans have diets high in processed carbohydrates—such as those found in fast food, sugary drinks, and snack foods—which provide an abundance of calories with very little nutritional value.

Taste Is An Acquired Sense

It's true. The foods you enjoy today are likely the foods you ate frequently and enjoyed as a child. For a majority of Americans, these are foods that we don't love because of the delicious taste, but because of their convenience. These foods are engineered to be palatable, sometimes addictive, leading to overeating and, consequently, an excess of empty calories that contribute to weight gain, but not your health. However, calories alone do not equate to proper nutrition. Here-in lays the problem.

While individuals consuming a carbohydrate-rich diet (rice and noodles) get enough energy, the do not get enough essential nutrients like protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. This is problematic for three reasons...

  1. Without enough exercise, the excess carbs (especially highly processed carbs) are immediately stored away as fat leading to weight gain.

  2. This should be obvious, but your body is not getting the proper nutrition it needs. The not-so-obvious part is number three below.

  3. If you are not giving your body the proper nutrition it requires, you will not be rewarded with a proper satiety response. Your belly will become full, but an hour later your body will remain in need of the nutrition it has not received. This is the paradox of the SAD diet. One is never satiated.

You must make the time to prepare healthy whole food meals and vegetables for your children
Taste is an acquired sense. If children are not exposed to a healthy whole food diet, maintaining a healthy weight as an adult will always be difficult. You MUST make the time to prepare healthy whole food meals for your young children.

There is a difference between food and nutrition

While there is food in nutrition, there is not always nutrition in food.

The body requires essential nutrients like protein, fats (ideally healthy fats in the form of Omega 3s) and the vitamins and minerals in plant based food. Proteins are fundamental for the maintenance and repair of body tissues, while healthy fats, such as those from fish, nuts, and avocados, are crucial for brain health and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Healthy food is colorful. The more color you see on your plate, they better you're eating.
Healthy food is colorful. The more color you see on your plate, they better you're eating.

A deficiency in these macronutrients can lead to various health issues despite the presence of excess body fat. Moreover, phytonutrients—bioactive compounds found in plants—are often lacking in the standard American diet. These substances, which include antioxidants, flavonoids, and carotenoids, among others, play a significant role in preventing chronic diseases and are vital for overall health. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are the primary sources of these nutrients, yet their consumption is frequently overshadowed by processed foods.

The result is a population that, despite its ample calorie intake, suffers from micronutrient deficiencies and related health problems, embodying the condition of being "overfed but undernourished." Addressing this issue is complex. It requires a shift toward a more balanced diet that emphasizes whole foods over processed ones. Nutrient-dense options over calorie-dense options. Another paradox is that most American would actually prefer to eat this way, but these habits are so ingrained, it's an uphill battle.

Three tip to avoid the pitfalls of America's SAD state of health...

  1. Learn to enjoy eating healthy. This starts with your children. If they grow up eating vegetables, lean protein, and a 1:1 ratio of good fats to bad fats, they will always enjoy those foods. Alternatively, if they grow up eating sweets and processed carbs like instant noodles, they're always going to crave those items.

  2. Shop the perimeters. If you want to avoid the highly processed carbohydrates stay away from the middle of the store. All of the fresh items are located around the perimeter - fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood. The items in the middle are designed for shelf-life rather than your health.

  3. Make the time to eat healthy. Replace 3-4 carb-heavy meals per week with lean protein options or vegetable options. Substitute rice for a vegetable side. Remove the instant noodles and replace them with a salad. Does it take more of your time to prepare a salad? Of course, but you must make the time to eat healthy.

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