How Your Body Responds to Just One High-Fat Meal

How Your Body Responds to Just One High-Fat Meal

Before jumping on the latest trend that tells you it’s okay to pour cream or butter in your coffee, you should be aware of the four major effects that one high-fat meal has on your heart.

1. Slower Blood Flow
Within hours after eating a high fat meal, our blood gets thicker and milky with fat, which slows down blood flow to the heart.

2. Stiff Arteries
At the same time, a high fat meal, especially one high in saturated fat, triggers endothelial dysfunction, which causes the arteries to stiffen and constrict. This effect further inhibits blood flow.

3. Reduced Protection from Atherosclerosis
One study shows that one high fat meal can also reduce the anti-inflammatory ability of HDL (the good cholesterol) to protect your artery lining from atherosclerosis. In this study, 14 healthy volunteers ate two meals one-month apart. The meals appeared identical, except one was high in saturated fat from coconut oil and the other had equal fat from polyunsaturated fat. Both had fat content similar to that of a double cheeseburger, side of fries and a milkshake. The researchers observed that when the volunteers ate the meal high in saturated fat, their arteries had limited ability to expand, which constricted blood flow to their hearts. The meal high in saturated fat also impaired the protective properties of HDL (the good cholesterol). The presence of saturated fat changed HDL from protective to inflammatory, which caused a detrimental inflammatory response in lining of the arteries. This effect is well-known for leading to the development of plaque.

Other studies that focused on saturated fats such as butter, dairy, and coconut oil also demonstrate a similar detrimental effect on the health of the arteries. For example, a 2015 study published in Atherosclerosis, which investigated the impact of both the amount of fat and the type of fat (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) showed higher levels of triglycerides in the blood from all the high fat meals. Saturated fat, however, had the most effect. Researchers found that saturated fat constricted the arteries, which decreased blood flow to the heart and prompted inflammation.

4. The Holiday Effect
For some susceptible individuals, a meal high in saturated fat can also cause angina (chest pain). This indicates a lack of blood flow to the heart. For people who have more progressed heart disease, one fatty meal can be fatal. In fact, there’s a connection between this and what’s known as the “holiday or Christmas effect, ” where more people suffer from heart attacks and strokes during the holiday season, a time when people consume more high fat foods as well as experience more stress.

So despite the trends that claim butter, cream and bacon are healthy, saturated fat has a long history of damaging effects to the health of our heart.

This article originally appeared on Ornish Living.

Medically reviewed in November 2018.

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