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Fast Foods: A Hazard to Our Health?

One day of eating a fat-laden breakfast sandwich can adversely affect your arteries, according to two recent Canadian studies, one conducted by researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute’s Epic Centre and another by researchers at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. Findings from both studies were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in October 2012.

In the first study, led by Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research at the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre (ÉPIC) and associate professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine, the team studied 28 non-smoking men who ate two very different meals. The men ate a Mediterranean-type meal first and then a junk food-type meal one week later. Prior to the study, researchers conducted a test to assess the endothelial function (inner lining of the blood vessels) of each participant. (Endothelial dysfunction has been shown to be of significance in predicting stroke and heart attacks due to the inability of the arteries to dilate fully.)They conducted a follow up test after each meal to determine how the food affected heart health.

Dr. Nigam and his team found that after eating the junk food meal, the arteries of the study participants dilated 24% less than they did when in the fasting state. In contrast, they found that the arteries dilated normally and maintained good blood flow after the Mediterranean-type meal.

"These results will positively alter how we eat on a daily basis. Poor endothelial function is one of the most significant precursors of atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). It is now something to think about at every meal," Dr. Nigam said.

In the second study, researchers at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta assessed the acute effects of just one high-fat meal on microvascular function (an indicator of overall vascular health) with a group of healthy, non-smoking university students after they ate a fast-food breakfast sandwich – processed cheese and meat on a bun.
The students were studied twice, once on a day they had no breakfast and once when they consumed two breakfast sandwiches, fuelled with 900 calories and 50 g of fat. Just two hours after eating the sandwiches, researchers found that their arteries ability to increase blood flow under stress had decreased by 15-20 percent. According to Dr. Todd Anderson, director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, head of cardiac sciences at the University of Calgary and a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher, if the arteries decreased capacity to increase blood flow under stress becomes a chronic condition, there is an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

In another study, conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and published by the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, researchers examined the eating habits of residents in Singapore and found evidence that a diet heavy in fast food increases the risk of coronary heart disease and developing Type 2 diabetes. The study, conducted over 16 years, examined the eating habits of Singapore residents who had experienced a sudden transition from traditional, healthier foods to a more Western-style diet of fast foods.

“We wanted to examine the association of Western-style fast food with cardio-metabolic risk in a Chinese population in Southeast Asia that has become a hotbed for diabetes and heart disease,” said the study’s lead researcher, University of Minnesota post-doctoral researcher Andrew Odegaard, Ph.D., M.P.H. “What we found was a dramatic public health impact by fast food, a product that is primarily Western import into a completely new market.”

The results found that people who consume fast food even once a week increased their risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 per cent in comparison to people who avoid fast food. For people eating fast food two – three times a week, the risk increases by 50 per cent. And eating fast food two more times a week also increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 20 per cent.

“What’s interesting about the results is that study participants who reported eating fast food most frequently were younger, better educated, smoked less and were more likely to be physically active,” said Odegaard. “This profile is normally associated with lower cardio-metabolic risk.”

If a fat-laden fast food meal can affect a group of healthy students with no risk factors in such a short time, then perhaps we should give more thought to making healthier food choices every day. The key is to cut out processed foods from our diet and eat better quality, real foods. A balanced, healthy diet will consist of protein, carbohydrates and fat, with emphasis on having good quality foods. In addition to reducing the risk of disease, the benefits of choosing healthier foods will multiply – leading to weight loss, increased energy levels and improved overall appearance and well-being. Remember, we have control over whatever is put in our mouth.


Get healthy eating tips in the February 14th blog: Skip Fast Foods to Supersize your Health.

 

Information for this article was researched from the following websites:


UdeM Nouvelles (Tuesday, October 30th 2012) New Study Reveals that Every Single Junk Food Meal Damages Your Arteries Retrieved from: http://www.nouvelles.umontreal.ca/udem-news/news/20121030-new-study-reveals-that-every-single-junk-food-meal-damages-your-arteries.html.
University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine (November 1, 2012) Breakfast Sandwiches Bad for Heart Health Retrieved from:  http://www.medicine.ucalgary.ca/heart-health-breakfast-sandwich

University of Minnesota Health Sciences (July 2, 2012) Fast Food Intake Increases Risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease in Singapore Retrieved from: http://www.health.umn.edu/media/releases/fast-food-in-singapore/

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