In counseling, I often discuss the Pareto Principle when it comes to eating healthy. If you are on track 80% of the time, the 20% of the time you stray will likely not harm you. But I may have to rethink my strategies, especially when it comes to consuming saturated fat. A new study has found that just one fatty meal can be detrimental to the health of your arteries.
Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research at the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre at the University of Montreal, conducted a small study of 28 non-smoking men who first ate a Mediterranean-style meal of salmon, almonds and vegetables cooked in olive oil and then a junk food “Westernized” diet consisting of a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich and three hash browns a week later. A baseline ultrasound of the antecubital artery (found at the crease of the elbow) was first performed after a 12-hour fast to assess the endothelial function – how the blood vessels are working. The tests were repeated two and a half hours after each meal.
The arteries of those eating the high saturated fat meal dilated 24% less than when tested after fasting. In contrast, arteries performed normally after the diet rich in monounsaturated fats.
“These results will positively alter how we eat on a daily basis. Poor endothelial function is one of the most significant precursors of atherosclerosis. It is now something to think about at every meal,” Dr. Nigam said.
The Mediterranean Diet (MeDi) is one of the top-rated methods of eating for optimal health. Foods that are included are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. Fish and shellfish are the primary protein sources, while red meat, poultry and dairy are discouraged. Processed foods and sugary foods are also limited.
Recently, a study found that those who most closely follow the MeDi have lower body mass indexes (BMI – an evaluation of ideal weight) and less small vessel damage, particularly in the brain. They also have a lowered risk of death from heart disease. The diet may also be protective against cancer.
The Mediterranean Diet is varied enough so that you can still enjoy most of your favorite foods within reason. While it may be convenient now to stop by a fast-food joint on the way home, it won’t be too beneficial later when you miss several weeks of work due to surgery for a clogged artery!
J. Cantin, S. Lacroix, J. Tardif, A. Nigam. 390 Does the Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Influence Baseline and Postprandial Endothelial Function? Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2012; 28 (5): S245 DOI:10.1016/j.cjca.2012.07.367