Western food is back in the news after being out of fashion for years, according to a new study published in the Journal of Food and Agricultural Chemistry.
The study looked at how popular Western foods have changed over time.
“This is the first time we’ve looked at the consumption habits of Western food in a way that has been done in a peer-reviewed journal,” study author and food anthropologist Dr. Laura Smith told Reuters Health.
“We wanted to look at it through a lens of food and nutrition.”
Food and nutrition researchers studied more than a billion food records in the United States, Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand between 2004 and 2014.
They compared the prevalence of Western foods to that of non-Western food items.
In total, they looked at 4.2 billion food items in the study.
“Most people in Western countries eat more than one type of Western diet,” Smith said.
“But for Western people, it’s really important to look across the spectrum of Western diets and find what’s good for them.”
They looked at a variety of Western dietary foods, including fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, nuts and olive oil, among other things.
Smith also looked at other foods, such as dairy products, nuts or oils, that were not traditionally considered Western.
“I was surprised to find that dairy products are often consumed more in Western societies than they are in Western cultures,” she said.
Smith added that Westerners tend to eat more meat, fish and poultry than their non-western counterparts, so it’s important to note that Western people tend to have a high intake of processed meat and processed foods, too.
“What you need to keep in mind is that these are foods that have been around for thousands of years,” she told Reuters.
“They have been a part of our diet for a long time.”
For instance, many Westerners don’t consider fried chicken to be a Western food.
“There are a lot of people who think fried chicken is a Western dish, but they’re probably wrong,” Smith explained.
“The fact is that there are lots of other types of food that are very much part of the Western diet.”
Another factor that may have influenced Western eating habits is that Western food items are often found in the pantry of many Western households, Smith said, which has created a tendency for Westerners to overconsume Western foods.
“Westerners are more likely to buy a lot and they tend to go through a lot,” she added.
In fact, Smith also found that the average Westerner eats twice as many calories as their non American counterparts.
“When we look at the Westerners who are consuming more Western food, they are actually consuming more calories than their American counterparts,” Smith noted.
“So if you have more Westerners, you’re eating more Western foods.”
Smith’s study looked for a correlation between Western consumption and Western obesity, which she said is one of the most pressing health issues facing the world today.
“Obesity is linked to Western dietary patterns and Western diets,” she noted.
However, the correlation between the two factors was not strong enough to suggest that Western dietary habits are a direct cause of obesity, or the problem of obesity in general.
For instance in Smith’s sample, only 1.7 percent of Westerners reported eating a lot more than they should, while 10.4 percent of non Westerners did the same.
However Smith said that, for Westerns, their food choices have a much greater impact on their weight.
“If you are trying to get healthy, the only way to do it is to be as nutritious as possible, to eat as much as possible and to exercise,” Smith told the Associated Press.
“You’re not going to get the same results if you’re just eating a few more calories.”
The study also showed that Western dieters are not necessarily healthier than non- Westerners.
“Many Westerners may be doing fine without a Western diet, but it’s the Westerner that is actually consuming the most calories,” Smith added.
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That’s a really important takeaway.”
For more health news on the world’s food system, follow us on Twitter at @ReutersHealth, on Facebook at russiandrews, on Instagram at rosanna, on Pinterest at jennifer.tucker and on Google+.