"Opting out" of the Western diet

By Leigh Felesky, CBCNews.ca

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that the Western diet is responsible for 35 per cent of the world's heart attacks.

A typical Western diet includes meat, fried foods and salt. Also, most Western diets are loaded with sugar. In 2007, Americans consumed 44 pounds of refined cane and beet sugar and 40 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per capita (read more about sugar).

For those of us living in the Western world, how concerned should we be? Can we do anything to opt-out of this bad-news lifestyle? With a few changes to my own diet, I've decided that the answer is a profound, "YES."'

Interestingly enough, the study also showed that, "'The Oriental' diet, which is loaded with tofu but also high in salty soy sauce, showed no relationship with heart attack risk." So, I decided to sign up for that.

For one week I stuck to an Asian-style diet. To keep it simple, I Googled "Asian diet," did a survey of what came up and followed the general guidelines, which included no dairy products and little red meat. No baked goods, french fries or cheese either, but instead lots of fish, noodles (I went for rice noodles), nuts and rice.

This was all fairly easy thanks to my rice-cooker and steamer - although by the end of the week I was yearning for a little extra fat, which I satisfied with mixed nuts.

I also tried to increase up my intake of fresh vegetables and fruit.

At the restaurant, Teriyaki Experience, food is cooked on a steel grill using water, not oil. This Japanese cooking style is called teppanyaki. In this video, tofu and beansprouts are being grilled for a tofu-rice dish. All the meals are prepared individually. (Leigh Felesky/CBC)

Stirfry chicken and vegetable mix on top of noodles with a teriyaki sauce. (Leigh Felesky/CBC)

Grilled tofu, rice and beansprout combination with lots of hot sauce on top. (Leigh Felesky/CBC)

Overall, the diet was relatively easy, with some planning. In Canada, particularly in Toronto, you can find just about every kind of food that exists in the world. Often, Thai, and Japanese restaurants all thrive within the same city block as Tim Hortons. The key here is to make sure the food isn't cooked to appease a Western palate, but rather is basic Thai or Japanese.

Also, there are stores that carry produce and goods from all over the world - great for diet purposes (although not so great for global warming, with the fuel costs of transporting the food). So, with all these choices it's possible to eat Asian-style at home and out.

How did I feel? Thirsty, until I learned to cut down on the amount of soy sauce and avoid all the packaged "Asian" noodle products that were high in salt.

And, not surprisingly, the sugar cravings were uncomfortable, surely a hallmark of weaning off a Western-style diet. Eating fruit to replace sugar helped a bit.

Still, I had a lot of energy and felt lean, so-to-speak, so I would recommend trying this dietary experiment to anyone looking for a change.

Other choices such as the Mediterranean diet have also been shown to be good for the heart. In particular, this involves eating whole grains and avoiding baked goods, having lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, using olive oil and limiting the amount of red meat.

Another way to opt-out? Avoid fast food, which is responsible for a great deal of fat and salt.

If you look at nutritional value, the faster the food and the faster you plan to eat it, the more likely it's considered typically Western (think: cookies, chips, pastries, hamburgers). In fact, some might argue that North American food is not really the problem, it's processed food that happens to have the biggest market in North America that's the problem.

Do you eat a typically Western diet? If not, how do you "opt-out"?