Just one bacon cheeseburger every now and then couldn’t hurt, could it? Absolutely, according to a study comparing the different effects on arteries of fast food and the Mediterranean. A single fast food meal was shown to damage arteries, while the Mediterranean diet helped keep arteries healthy.
Fast food and endothelial dysfunction
The vascular endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessel walls. When healthy, the endothelium maintains vascular tone and blood fluidity and limits vascular inflammation. A diet that includes fast food high in saturated fat can contribute to endothelial dysfunction marked by inflammation, blood clots, vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) and atherosclerotic plaques.
Endothelial dysfunction is closely linked to the long-term risk of developing coronary artery disease. To quantify the impact of good fat and bad fat on heart disease risk, a group of Canadian researchers compared the effects of fast food and a typical Mediterranean meal on the endothelium.
Mediterranean menu beneficial
The study involved 28 non-smoking men who ate a Mediterranean meal first and a fast food meal one week later. To get a baseline of endothelial function, the men underwent an ultrasound of the antecubital artery at the elbow crease after fasting for 12-hours. The researchers then tested the effects of each meal.
The Meditarranean menu featured salmon, almonds, and vegetables cooked in olive oil, with 51 percent of total calories from monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats. The fast food menu consisted of a sandwich made from sausage, egg, cheese, and hash browns, with 58 percent of total calories from saturated fat and no omega-3s.
Fast food and artery damage
Endothelial function was measured by determining how quickly arteries dilate upon release after being closed off for five minutes. At two hours and four hours after each meal, participants underwent additional ultrasounds to assess how the different meals impacted their endothelial function.
Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research at the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre in Montreal, presented the findings at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in October. His team found that after eating fast food, the participants’ arteries dilated 24 percent less than was measured in the initial fasting period. The arteries dilated normally to maintain healthy blood flow after the Mediterranean meal.
Nigam also found that participants with higher blood triglyceride levels benefited more from the Mediterranean meal. Their arteries responded better compared to people with lower triglyceride levels.
Healthier fast food choices
The study adds to a body of research showing that a Mediterranean diet helps keep arteries healthy. It should also make you think twice about whether the occasional breakfast sandwich is really harmless.
If you’re in a hurry and you’re hungry, consider these healthier fast food choices, courtesy of Web MD:
Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich a large fruit cup - 400 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 1 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol
Wendy’s Chili-Topped Potato – 460 calories, 6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol.
KFC Grilled Chicken Breast with Mashed Potatoes, Corn on the Cob – 430 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 90 mg cholesterol
Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Minis Breakfast (Chick-Fil-A) – 260 calories, 10 g fat,.5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol
Jack in the Box Chicken Teriyaki Bowl – 585 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol