November 2, 2012
Think just one burger won’t do any damage? Not so, according to a University of Montreal study, which shows that even one meal high in saturated fat damages arteries.
Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research at the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabiliation Centre (EPIC) of the university-affiliated Montreal Heart Institute co-authored the study comparing the health of vascular endothelium (inner lining of blood vessels) in response to a meal of junk food versus a typical Mediterranean meal.
The study involved 28 non-smokers who ate a Mediterranean-influenced meal (salmon, almonds, and vegetables cooked in olive oil) in one week and fast food (sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich with three hashbrowns) in the next. In both meals, calories were derived between 50 and 60 percent from fat, but the Mediterranean fats were monounsaturated and polunsaturated, whereas the fast food meal’s fats were saturated with no omega 3 fatty acids. Before eating and two and four hours after each meal, the participants were evaluated for baseline endothelial funciton.
The results were about what one might expect. After eating junk food, the subjects’ arteries dilated 24 percent less than when measured in a fasting state, constricting blood flow. Arteries after subjects had eaten a healthy Mediterranean meal, however, functioned normally.
Every Meal is a Health Choice
“Poor endothelial function is one of the most significant precursors of atherosclerosis,” Dr. Nigam says. The degree of dilation of arteries is very closely associated with their hardening, known as atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease.
“It is now something to think about at every meal.”
Subjects with higher blood triglycerides also saw benefits from the Mediterranean meal, and “individuals with high triglyceride levels, such as patients with metabolic syndrom, [would benefit] precisely because it could help keep arteries healthy,” Dr. Nigam add.
In addition to the findings revealing the damage to arteries, junk food and fast food have also been shown to cause depression. In fact, the study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, shows that those consuming fast food are 51 percent more likely to be depressed  than those consuming very little or none of the health-damaging food. What’s more, depression risk was found to increase with the more fast food and junk food consumed.
Fresh Versus Fast Food
Monounsaturated fats—like those found in olive oil—are one of the top 5 brain foods  that boost cognition, and polyunsaturated fatty acids help build new brain cells. Omega 3 fatty acids have numerous benefits, too, not least of all helping to pave way for longevity and improved mood.
We make hundreds of decisions about food daily; it’s important that we make them well. Although fresh food may not always be the more affordable decision (and it often is), it’ll pay you back in the long run when you have cheaper medical bills!