Even One Fatty Meal Affects Arteries
Effect of Meals High in Good or Bad Fat Immediately Apparent in Arteries
Aug. 8, 2006 -- Eating just one fatty meal can have a major impact on your
arteries -- for worse or for better.
So says a new study that shows eating a meal high in saturated fats, like a
cheeseburger and fries, can reduce the ability of the body's "good"
cholesterol to protect against clogged arteries.
However, a single meal high in heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats, like
those found in sunflower and corn oil, can have the opposite effect, helping
protect the arteries from plaque buildup.
"It's further evidence to support the need to aggressively reduce the
amount of saturated fat consumed in the diet," says researcher Stephen J.
Nicholls, MBBS, PhD, PRACP, FACC, a cardiologist at The Cleveland Clinic in
"This study helps to explain the mechanisms by which saturated fat
supports the formation of plaques in the arterial wall, and we know these
plaques are the major cause of heart attack and stroke," Nicholls
says in a news release.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products like butter, red meat,
and lard. But they are also in some plant products, such as coconut and palm
Polyunsaturated fats are primarily plant-based and include safflower, corn,
and sunflower oils. They are usually liquid at room temperature.
Fatty Meals Affect Arteries
In the small study, published in the Journal of the American College of
Cardiology, researchers looked at the effects on 14 healthy adults of
eating a meal high in saturated fat or polyunsaturated fat. Study participants
had such a meal on two separate occasions, one month apart.
Each meal consisted of a slice of carrot cake and milk shake made with
either saturated or polyunsaturated fat.
The meals were tailored to each participant and designed to contain 1 gram
of fat for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. That amount of fat is equivalent to
a double cheeseburger, a large order of fries, and a large milk shake for a
The researchers found that three hours after eating the saturated fat meal,
the endothelium, or inner lining of blood vessels, in study participants showed
reduced ability to expand and increase blood flow.
Six hours after the meal high in saturated fat, the "good" HDL
cholesterol's protective ability to prevent inflammation was also impaired, the
researchers found. Inflammation has been linked to plaque buildup in the
In contrast, six hours after eating the meal high in polyunsaturated fats,
HDL's protective effects were enhanced. The researchers found fewer
inflammatory agents in the participants' arteries than they did after the
saturated fat meal.
"We have a situation where consumption of a single meal containing a
high level of saturated fat is associated with ... impairment of a normal
protective property of HDL," says Nicholls. "In contrast, consumption
of a meal high in polyunsaturated fat results in HDL that is more