Most people already realize when they pull into a fast-food restaurant that they’re not getting healthy food. Most fast-food offerings are high in salt and saturated fat, a not-so-winning combination when it comes to the health of your heart. The majority of people think when they bite into a cheeseburger with bacon and mayo that it takes years for that burger to do its damage. Not necessarily so. According to new research carried out at the Montreal Heart Institute, the damage begins within a few hours after you swallow that burger and fries. Heart disease is a risk no one can afford to ignore. It’s the number one killer of both sexes and no one, regardless of their family history, is immune.
Junk Food and Heart Health
Researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute gave 28 men a Mediterranean-style meal of veggies prepared in olive oil, salmon and nuts. A week later the same men ate a “typical” fast-food breakfast high in saturated fat that included hash browns, cheese, and sausage. After each meal, they used an ultrasound study to measure how their blood vessels responded.
The researchers wanted to know what effect each type of meal would have on endothelial function, a measure of how well blood vessels dilate or open up in response to a meal. When blood vessels have a poor endothelial function and don’t dilate as much, it’s a risk factor for heart disease. The results? Even a single fast-food meal reduced endothelial function by 24%. In contrast, the men who ate the Mediterranean meal had healthy blood vessel function.
What Does This Mean?
Even a single junk food meal impacts your blood vessels, at least temporarily. The researchers in this study believe the higher saturated fat content of the fast-food meal in this study was responsible for the decreased endothelial function. On the other hand, a meal like this would also be high in salt, another dietary component that negatively impacts endothelial function. That’s one reason why high salt diets elevate blood pressure in some people. A healthy endothelial function is not only important for reducing the risk of heart disease – it reduces the risk of hypertension as well.
In contrast to the sausage, cheese, and hash brown breakfast, the Mediterranean meal didn’t negatively impact blood flow. This isn’t surprising since the Mediterranean diet is believed to be one of the healthiest diets in the world – and one of the best for reducing the risk of heart disease.
The Merits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy sources of fat like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil. It also de-emphasizes red meat. Because most of the carbohydrates in the Mediterranean diet are low-glycemic, it reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance as well, which are precursors to type 2 diabetes. Mediterranean diets abundant in healthy fats and low-glycemic carbs have also been linked with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. All in all, the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest you can choose.
The Bottom Line?
It may not take years for your blood vessels to feel the impact of a fast-food or a junk food meal – so choose wisely.
Science Daily. “Every Single Junk Food Meal Damages Your Arteries, News Study Reveals”
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; vol 89: pp 485-490.
Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 12, 2009; vol 303: pp 627-637.