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Your Heart on Junk Food

Posted Dec 11 2012 11:00am

To overcome willpower problems, some diets advocate the so-called free day. You can forget all those rules you’ve been fighting to uphold one day a week, guilt free. Unfortunately, a study by the University of Montreal-affiliated ÉPIC Center of the Montreal Heart Institute refutes this common diet strategy, stating that even one bad meal can negatively impact your health.

Saturated Fats and Cardiovascular Function
Consuming saturated fats, like those found in butter or lard, carries health risks. First, they contain high portions of fat that can contribute to obesity; this is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. They can also increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

The researchers found that even a single meal that is high in saturated fats can affect cardiovascular function. They analyzed blood vessel dilation after participants consumed a meal high in fat. They found that arterial dilation decreased 24 percent. This means that these blood vessels remain more constricted, leading to higher blood pressure and a heightened risk of atherosclerosis.

These findings shed new light on the mechanisms behind heart disease risk. They also show that you can exercise some control over it by good diet choices–at every meal. The cheat meal has no place in a healthy diet no matter what the reason or intention.

Staying Motivated
If you needed a reason to clean up your diet, these findings certainly can provide a compelling case. The fact remains that foods containing saturated fats, cholesterol and added sugars are addicting. Overcoming these food addictions means giving them up cold turkey. Every time you indulge, you delay your body’s ability to lose its taste for these unhealthy foods. And, as this study points out, you also negatively affect cardiovascular function.

Of course, not all fats are bad. Researchers also found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean-type meal did not experience the same effects; blood vessel function remained normal. The takeaway message is that the healthy diet consists of good fats, like olive or canola oil. These fats provide the nutrients your body needs, without harming cardiovascular function.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore; you needn’t feel deprived. It’s simply a matter of switching focus from unwise choices to healthier ones. Choosing polyunsaturated or monosaturated fats is an excellent starting point.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). High Blood Pressure Facts .

Eureka Alert. (2012).  New study reveals that every single junk food meal damages your arteries .

photo credit: Vanessa Pike-Russell via photopin cc

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