By Jon Benson, author of "Fit Over 40"
Perhaps you saw the headlines: "Just one high-fat meal can damage arteries!"
Scary, isn't it? Well, not all is as it appears.
While there is tremendous promise in this area of research, unfortunately it's being conducted with a preconceived bias -- that dietary fat is "bad" for you. The truth is anything is bad for you in quantity, even oxygen. While these studies have good intentions, they fall short of delivering what they claim: proof that fat is clogging your arteries faster than you can say "Lipitor."
The type of fat consumed, along with the carbohydrate consumed with it, is tainting these studies. For example, Indiana University kinesiology researchers recently discovered that physical activity after eating a high-fat meal does two things at once: reverses the damage to your arteries and improves their functioning as (get this) compared to before the meal.
Professor Janet Wallace and team looked at eight 25-year-old subjects. The first meal was "high-fat" (more on why that's in quotes in a moment.) The second meal was low in dietary fat.
After the high-fat meal, scans of the subjects' brachial artery, which is similar to coronary arteries in structure, revealed, in Wallace's words, "... arteries that looks just like the arteries of a person who had heart disease." Clog city.
However, when engaging in mere brisk walking for 45 minutes two hours after this meal, the arteries returned to normal ... and then some. The arteries actually showed improvement.
The test subjects also ate a low-fat meal for comparison.
What's Wrong With This Study?
Plenty. For starters, the fats used were highly processed and included trans fats, which have been strongly associated with the onset of heart disease. But that's not all. The meal consumed was indeed high in fat, but also loaded with calories and high-glycemic carbohydrates.
The researchers failed to test "only" naturally occurring fats in their experiment, as well as provide a sample meal that was devoid of high-GI carbs (hash browns were used in this example). Would the arteries have clogged then?
It's wonderful that we clearly see what exercise does to the arteries. This is nothing new to readers of "Fit Over 40." The exercise and dietary recommendations in my book easily fulfill the requirements of an abundantly healthy lifestyle and that can mean healthier arteries.
The real tragedy is the fact that studies like these generate even greater "fat phobia."
Both fat and carbohydrate are sources of fuel for the body. Fat is a long-term energy source; carbohydrate, a short-term energy source. What happens when you mix, say, diesel fuel with unleaded in your car?
While this is an extreme example, the philosophy is sound. If your fat intake is elevated in a meal, decrease your carbs. The other way around works as well, assuming you have sufficient protein in the meal. Otherwise those carbs can cause spikes in insulin, especially in carb- sensitive individuals.
So where did the actual damage come from? Was it from the "high fat content" of the meal, or the overall structure of the meal itself, which by the way was almost 1,000 calories?
Common Sense, Part II
The Masai are a group of nomads in regions of Africa that have long puzzled low-fat advocates. These people consume massive quantities of animal fat, yet heart disease is virtually unknown to them. Another example are the Inuit -- Eskimos who consume large amounts of fish fat, yet remain virtually free of heart disease.
If a high-fat meal was solely responsible for arterial damage, then wouldn't the Masai and Inuit be dying in mass numbers from heart disease? Instead, it is "we" who are perishing in record numbers from heart disease, despite the fact that our diets have lowered in fat over the past 25 years.
Dietary fat is necessary for life. The quantity may be open to debate, but the reality is that carbohydrates of any kind can be done away with for years without harming health (as shown in multiple studies, and examples like the Inuit and Masai).
Try that with fat or protein and you'll die.
While such deprivation is not necessary, it is nonetheless something the body can manage due to the fact that there are no "essential carbohydrates."
There are wonderful, life-enhancing nutrients and phytochemicals in veggies and fruit, but the only nutritional elements deemed "essential" are amino acids (protein) and fats.
Natural fats, balanced with a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, with tons of raw and partially cooked veggies, a small amount of fruit, and ample quantities of lean protein, and mixed with very little dairy or starch, that's a safe-bet meal plan for most people.
Just don't forget to include healthy fats and exercise. Your arteries will thank you.
Jon Benson is a transformational lifecoach, specializing in nutrition and physical fitness, as well as the creator and co-author of "Fit Over 40: Role Models For Excellence At Any Age."
Visit www.fitover40.com for more info.