One Bad Meal

fast food and unhealthy eating concept - close up of fast food snacks and coca cola drink on wooden table

Gluttony. It’s the first of the seven deadly sins… but we’ve all done it, and some of us do it every day. We tell ourselves that it’s a special occasion. We reward ourselves with a treat. We tell ourselves that it’s just one meal, so it can’t do too much harm right? It’s just a part of being human… but new research has demonstrated that even one fatty, high-calorie, sugary, deep-fried “cheat meal” can have immediate and lasting negative health consequences.

A number of different studies have found that unhealthy meals, especially those that contain a high content of carbohydrates and fat, can have immediate detrimental consequences. Researchers have found evidence of inflammation, damaged blood vessels, increased risk of clotting, and increased stress response in individuals after eating just one bad meal.

In one recent example, a study tested the effects of one dose of palm oil (which is very high in saturated fat) on healthy young men of lean body size. After ingesting the palm oil, the men were found to produce more glucose in their livers (70 percent more, in fact). Their liver cells were also found to work harder, signifying potential liver stress which could lead to liver disease down the road.

On these findings, Dr. Michael Roden, co-author of the study, commented:

“The effects mimic the abnormalities seen in people with severe metabolic disease… Our findings paint the picture of the earliest changes in liver metabolism leading to fatty liver diseases and liver cirrhosis in the context of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Other studies have shown elevated biomarkers of inflammation, as well as changes to arterial function, after consuming high-fat, high calorie meals. When researchers study the flow-mediated dilation of the arteries (assessed by looking at the blood flow in the arm) after these meals, they can see that the flow is compromised after a meal such as this. It’s amazing that these effects can be witnessed after just a single high fat meal. I don’t want to scare anyone, since nearly all of us have downed a cheeseburger at some point in our lives, but the effects really are remarkable… and not in a good way.

The healthcare system in the United States is already collapsing under the burden of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic-related diseases. If one bad meal can have all of the negative effects detailed above, just imagine what happens when that meal happens three, four, or more times per day, day after day. One bad meal isn’t good, but the cumulative effects of multiple bad meals are staggeringly terrible for you. Every opportunity you have to avoid one of these meals is an opportunity to win… you have this opportunity every time you eat.

When choosing a meal, take the opportunity to do your body good instead of harm. The key to eating for optimal health is to base your diet around whole foods, and center it around plants. This includes veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, legumes, omega-3 fatty acids… foods that don’t have the negative effects of those high-fat, high-carb meals that so many Americans eat.

What’s more, when you eat in this healthy, plant-based way, you can reverse the ill effects of artery and liver damage rather quickly. I’ve seen this in my practice. When my patients stop eating bad meals, and start eating healthy, plant-based whole meals, the health benefits start immediately and progress from there. This is because plant-based foods contain a wealth of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, as well as healthy proteins, fibers, and other compounds that improve health and help to heal damage that has been done.

So, when it’s time for your next meal, choose to eat for wellness. It’s never too late to start.

– Dr. Joshua Levitt