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Put Down the Cheeseburger: The Health Impact of Just One Junk Food Meal


I’d much rather see someone eat butter, a real food, over margarine or another processed alternative, but I have some major concerns about the trend of embracing fatty animal products, from bacon and lard to marbled steaks and whole milk.

Some of my pro athlete clients happily down bacon cheeseburgers, believing they can afford it because they torch so many calories. But when I explain to any client, athlete or not, what happens inside our arteries after just a single unhealthy meal, many begin to rethink how they evaluate food. And now a new Canadian study further supports my advice to follow a Mediterranean diet to protect your heart.

Researchers fed 28 non-smoking men a high-fat, Mediterranean-diet type meal that included salmon, almonds, and veggies cooked in olive oil. A week later, the guys ate another high-fat meal, this time consisting of a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich and three hash browns. After both dining sessions, they underwent ultrasounds to assess artery function.

Scientists found that the gent’s arteries were 24 percent less dilated after the second meal, but after the Mediterranean one, their arteries relaxed normally and supported good post-meal blood flow. As I explain to my athlete clients, restricted artery function limits the ability of oxygen and nutrients to travel to working cells, which can directly impact athletic performance. But artery function also affects non-athletes in significant ways—restriction means higher blood pressure, more stress on the heart, and side effects such as fatigue.

RELATED: Embrace the right fats and add one of these eight healthy fats to your next salad.

This isn’t the only study on this topic. Another looked at the impact of the same amount of fat and calories from three different sources—saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat—on post-meal circulation in healthy adults. The sat-fat group experienced a decrease in artery function for up to four hours after the meal, which was not seen in the other two groups.

Other research has reported this effect for up to six hours in healthy adults. In other words, the wrong fats negatively impact circulation, and no matter how active or healthy you are, the effects are immediate and important.

Ready to Mediterraneanize your diet? Check out this link to a week’s worth of easy, breezy, mix-and-match meals. Each contains a generous dose of “good” fat from Med diet staples such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and almond butter. If you give it a try, please let me know how you like the recipes, and more importantly, how you feel after eating salmon cashew ginger stir-fry for dinner (instead of something like meatloaf and mashed potatoes!).

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.


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