Now What Do We Eat? – Western Diet and Fast Food Linked to Neurodegenerative Diseases and Disrupters – Occupational Therapist’s Thoughts

Some interesting topics have come up in my feed lately regarding the Western diet and plastics. First of all, I love this stuff. Cheeseburgers. French Fries. Donuts. Soda. The pandemic did not help with me avoiding this food. Our family has set some goals for us, including our little one, to eat healthier. Now there’s even more reason to.

Western diet linked to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration in mouse study.

One neurodegenerative order that has been making some progress in research is Alzheimer’s disease. There may be a link between what Americans eat and neurodegenerative disorders – at least in mice. This is important to take into consideration as studies in mice do not translate to humans. Our lifestyle is likely to be more complex and have more variables. What comes to mind is stress, exercise, and prolonged environmental exposure (and immunity) to diseases and a much more diverse diet over the long-term compared to mice.

Another article was released in 2019 titled, “The Adipocyte Na/K-ATPase Oxidant Amplification Loop is the Central Regulator of Western Diet-Induced Obesity and Associated Comorbidities”[1]Pratt, R. D., Brickman, C., Nawab, A., Cottrill, C., Snoad, B., Lakhani, H. V., … & Sodhi, K. (2019). The adipocyte Na/K-ATPase oxidant amplification loop is the central regulator of … Reference List claiming a connection to the Western diet and obesity. Interestingly, concerns have been raised regarding the reliability of this data, and ‘appropriate editorial action will be taken once the investigation is complete.’

There was another article that showed up in my feed finding another connection between not solely diet and exercise for reducing obesity, but what is in our gut microbiome. Maybe this explains why some people can eat and eat and not gain weight?

“We showed that the gut microbiome has an impact on nutrient metabolism and energy expenditure. Moreover, different modalities of obesity treatment have been shown to change the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome; this raises questions about the role these changes may play in weight loss.”[2]Aoun, A., Darwish, F., & Hamod, N. (2020). The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Preventive nutrition … Reference List

What about foods like fast food and their micro-effects on our body? A study was actually published as early as 2016 suggesting a link to fast foods consumption containing Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA).[3]Ami R. Zota, Cassandra A. Phillips, and Susanna D. Mitro (2016) Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures among the U.S. Population in NHANES, 2003–2010 Environmental … Reference List More recently, how we consume our fast food such as ‘“hamburgers, fries, chicken nuggets, chicken burritos, cheese pizza” may contain hormone disrupters. If true, this can have an effect on things such as sexual reproductive health and other diseases. “The team believes that contact with plastic food packaging as well as gloves might be the cause of the phthalate contamination.”

This should be a cause of concern with the increase in eating at home during the pandemic – home-delivered meals (even if intended to be healthier), Doordash, and Uber Eats may be a source of these micro-plastics as well. Fast food is now making it to our home easier than ever. There has been more of a movement to use alternative materials too, which is promising. Biodegradables such as paper and bamboo instead of plastic straws, cups, plates is good to see in take-out/takeaways. How good these are for us and the environment as an alternative, I don’t know.

Are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic the answer in the long term?

The logistics are already kind of there. What if the Doordash driver (or an integrated company that contracts with these delivery companies) picks up the used dishes, plates, cups, etc. the next time they deliver to you? Kind of like at the hotel for in-room service. Then we could at least reduce the amount of plastic that makes it into our body.

My Thoughts

Overall, we can do with less plastic in our lives. It is literally everywhere and is very prevalent in food packaging, even at the supermarket. Fresher produce is less likely to have had contact with these plastics as they are often in cardboard packaging. But I get it. Plastic is readily available, cheap, and a good way to reduce contamination. With the overall cost of living going up, especially in the US and high inflation, it may be even more difficult to transition to plastic-less packaging. There are supply change shortages, logistical challenges, natural disasters, COVID-19 and re-opening, and much more factors at play. So would businesses really try and reinvent the wheel when they already have a system that works?

What if we can use technology to leverage this and help us do the things we don’t want to do: sort out the used cutlery and containers, clean it efficiently, and bring it back to the restaurants and fast-food restaurants to be re-used again? Yes, this will be an associated cost with this kind of operation, but it may be just worth it for our health,m the health of future generations, and the sustainability of our environment.

For us as consumers, there may be many barriers to eating healthier. One common barrier is cost. Fast food is good, fast, and much cheaper. Many communities may not even have access to organic fresh produce compared to fast food. When eating in, even at a fast-food ‘restaurant’, I think is entirely possible to go plastic-less. Reusables: putting plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery into dishwashers and the like. Take out is much more difficult to tackle logistically.

If any industry can solve this problem, it’s the fast-food industry and its turnkey high-efficiency franchise business model. However, much will have to go into research and implementation of such a system before being deployed on large scale. This is a big area of entrepreneural opportunity as Americans are being more health-conscious and aware of what they consume and where foods are sourced from.

Plastic is here to stay, but should it stay in our foods? And should we change what the Western diet is consisted of? Maybe. I think the key is balance and having access to both. Sometimes you should be able to have a french fry or two as well from the drive-through that is healthier than current options.

References

References
1 Pratt, R. D., Brickman, C., Nawab, A., Cottrill, C., Snoad, B., Lakhani, H. V., … & Sodhi, K. (2019). The adipocyte Na/K-ATPase oxidant amplification loop is the central regulator of western diet-induced obesity and associated comorbidities. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-11.
2 Aoun, A., Darwish, F., & Hamod, N. (2020). The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Preventive nutrition and food science, 25(2), 113–123. https://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2020.25.2.113
3 Ami R. Zota, Cassandra A. Phillips, and Susanna D. Mitro (2016) Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures among the U.S. Population in NHANES, 2003–2010 Environmental Health Perspectives 124:10 CID: https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510803
Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, culture, sociology, philosophy, and more.