"The problem is that the Westernized diet is delicious, easy and fast. It fits into the modern lifestyle," says Stephen O'Keefe, MD, professor of nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. But this fast, easy diet is lacking in fiber. More than 90 percent of the US population ages two and over are not eating enough fiber.
Dr. O'Keefe's research indicates that a low-fiber diet high in fat and animal protein contributes to bowel inflammation. It also contributes to over estrogenization, a common condition in Western society for both men and women.
Problems with the Western Diet
Breast cancer, ovarian and uterine cancers, and prostate cancer are all connected with too much estrogen. Symptoms related to a woman's period are greatly affected by over estrogenization; precocious puberty, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), menorrhagia (heavy periods), and delayed or difficult menopause are all signs of too much estrogen in the system. Obesity, with its related risks of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, is also closely tied to over estrogenization and plays a role in delayed puberty for boys.
Meat and dairy products — both staples in the Western diet — contribute to the problem by actively adding estrogen to our bodies. But the Western diet further contributes to over estrogenization by what it lacks: fiber. Without sufficient fiber, our bodies are unable to eliminate excess estrogen which leads to enterohepatic circulation, the process by which estrogen is recycled.
Elimination of Excess Estrogen Requires Fiber
As our liver filters the blood, it removes excess estrogen and sends it down through the bile duct, out into the small intestine. There, estrogen binds with the fiber that is passing through our digestive tract and is then eliminated with other wastes. However, if we are eating a typical Western diet, there may not be enough fiber in our intestine. In the absence of fiber, the estrogen will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and will circulate through the body again. This recycling will happen as many times as necessary until there is fiber available to sweep the estrogen out of the system. Since animal foods (like meat, fish, and dairy) have zero fiber, and processed foods (like cake, crackers, and bagels made from white flour) have very little, people eating a typical Western diet can easily have their bodies flooded with excess estrogen. As estrogen cycles and recycles, the cells are continually bathed in estrogen, thickening the lining of the uterus and increasing the risk of cancer cells being primed for growth.
Making it Easier to Eat a Diet of Fiber-Rich Plant Foods
So if the solution for enterohepatic circulation of estrogen is fiber, why don't we eat more of it? I think Dr. O'Keefe's analysis is correct. Not only does the Western diet taste good, but it's fast and easy. With the rapid pace of life in Western society, those who want to eat a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet have to find ways to make it easy to eat the delicious vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains that will improve our health. For my family, I've found some tools and tricks that make meal prep faster. My article 'Can Two Tools Make Diet Change Easy?' details exactly how I manage to cook a low-fat WFPB diet and still run a full-time medical practice, maintain a speaking schedule, and have a home life while being involved in my church and community. (The details differ, but your life is just as busy as mine is.) Fortunately, since we're each different, there's more than one way to manage a WFPB lifestyle. Lindsay Nixon from HappyHerbivore.com has lots of solutions for busy people who want to eat plant-based. She has tips on batch cooking as well as a whole meal plan that makes both shopping and cooking faster and easier. And PlantPure Nation offers the ultimate in ease by providing frozen meals that are low-fat and totally WFPB.
However we do it, eating meals based on low-fat whole plant foods is the basis for stopping the epidemic of obesity and over estrogenization in Western society.
Other blogs in this series: