Single cheat meal causes diminished cardiovascular function

Many people allow themselves a “cheat meal,” or unhealthy meal, as a reward for reaching their fitness or health goals. Or they, may eat better during the week and lapse in those healthy eating habits over the weekend. Maybe it’s a holiday or party that destroys your eating plan. In fact, many nutritionists regard an occasional cheat meal as a beneficial practice when attempting to lose weight. What could one meal hurt anyway, right?

Well according to a 2012 study that single junk meal — with a significant portion of calories from saturated fat — harms your cardiovascular function immediately following the meal.(1) Specifically, cheat meals, or typical meals of the Standard American Diet (SAD), adversely affect vascular endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels) function. Conversely, meals that more closely resemble the Mediterranean diet — rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (like omega-3s) — may produce positive effects on vascular endothelium function.

Vascular endothelial function is one of the most significant predictors of and precursors to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a common disorder characterized by the hardening, thickening or lossburger-1140824_1920 of elasticity of the arterial walls. It is caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that form plaque in the walls of the arteries. This buildup may eventually result in the blockage of the arteries, leading to a host of health problems including heart attack and stroke.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research and the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre (EPIC), and colleagues compared the effects of junk food meals to a typical Mediterranean meal. The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with a reduction in heart disease and atherosclerosis.

The study included 28 non-smoking men, who ate a Mediterranean meal (salmon, almonds, and vegetables cooked in olive oil) one week followed by a junk food meal (a sandwich with sausage, egg and cheese, and three hash browns) one week later. After each meal, the researchers measured endothelial function in response to the foods consumed.

Surprisingly, it took only one junk food meal for the researchers to observe a 24 percent decline in endothelial function among participants when compared to their baseline before meals. Participant’s endothelial function remained normal following the consumption of the Mediterranean meal. This is a remarkable finding and should provide a reason to pause before succumbing to that double cheeseburger and fries the next time you are tempted to cheat.

salmon-923964_1920The study authors also discovered that participants with higher blood triglyceride levels benefited more from the Mediterranean meal when compared to participants with low blood triglyceride levels. Their arteries responded better after eating the Mediterranean meal, which suggests that a single healthy meal may also provide dramatic benefits to the cardiovascular system.

What we learn from this research is that every meal matters and can contribute positively or negatively to our health. To discover more benefits of omega-3 fatty acids read pages 41-44 of The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails. Eat better and feel better!

(1) Cantin J, Lacroix S, Tardif J, et al. Does the Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Influence Baseline and Postprandial Endothelial Function? Canadian J Cardiology. 2012 Sep-Oct;28(5):S245.

Gardening and fishing improve heart health in seniors

If you’re like most people, the older you get the more concerned you become about developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). You probably also know that regular physical activity decreases the risk of CVD. Too often we associate regular physical activity to long bouts of exercise in the gym when the reality is cumulative daily activity through everyday tasks can be just as beneficial. Don’t take my word for it, research from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences suggests simple activities — like gardening — can reduce CVD risk.(1)

Age is certainly a factor when it comes to CVD risk according to statistics. Surprisingly, the American Heart Association estimates that males 45 years or older have a lifetime risk of developing CVD near 67 percent. Women fair only slightly better with close to a 50 percent chance of developing CVD. Cardiovascular diseases currently account for about one-third of all deaths in the United States taking a huge toll on families and economies. It is estimated that 935,000 heart attacks and 795,000 strokes occur each year, and CVD costs are estimated to be an astonishing $444 billion annually.

fisherman-591699_1920The Swedish study, published online October 28, 2013, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, monitored the cardiovascular health of nearly 4,000 men and women aged 60 for 12.5 years. Lab tests associated with heart attack and stroke risk — cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood clotting factor —were measured as well as physical examinations completed. In addition, participants reported lifestyle behaviors including diet, daily physical activity during leisure time, exercise, smoking and alcohol intake at the beginning of the study.

What the researchers observed was that those who were most physically active reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke by 27 percent and risk of all-cause mortality decreased by 30 percent, when compared with the least active participants. Remarkably, the physical activity didn’t need to be formal exercise in the gym. Rather, being generally active in daily activities, such as gardening, fishing, car maintenance, do it yourself and berry picking, was linked to decreased risk. This is important considering many individuals over age 60 choose not to exercise, but are likely to go fishing or to garden.

The take away of this study is that seniors can reduce CVD risk by participating in regular daily activities requiring movement. On the other hand, remaining sedentary can disrupt tissue, organ and cellular function, which may lead to ill health and increased CVD risk. The study authors recommend more than two hours of light-intensity activity (doesn’t cause you to sweat), or 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (makes you sweat) every week to get the greatest benefits. For tips to make activity a way of life see pages 107-108 of see The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails.


(1) Ekblom-Bak E, Ekblom B, Vikstrom M, et al. The importance of non-exercise physical activity for cardiovascular health and longevity. Brit J Sports Med. 2014;48:233-38.

Eat berries, elevate heart health

Blueberries and strawberries are the most common berry consumed in the United States and a delicious snack during the summer when they are ripe and in season. Beyond being a healthy treat, evidence suggests that berries are packed with nutrients (anthocyanins) that may decrease the risk of heart attack.

Berries are a concentrated source of naturally occurring compounds called dietary flavonoids, which exhibit antioxidant activity. These beneficial nutrients support cardiovascular health, encourage healthy immune function, and even help prevent cancer. Flavonoids are also found in other foods like citrus fruits, dark chocolate, grapes, and onions.

Both animal and human studies have shown that a specific type of flavonoid, called anthocyanins, provide cardioprotective benefits, such as reducing atherosclerosis, lowering blood pressure and decreasing arterial stiffness. A study by Harvard researchers adds to the cardiovascular benefits of berries, suggesting that eating berries may reduce the risk of heart attack in women.(1)

The Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom collaborated as part of a prospective study to evaluate the cardiovascular benefits of berries. The study included 93,600 women ages 25 to 42 from the Nurses’ Health Study II. Participants were monitored for 18 years, completing dietary questionnaires ever four years.

What the researchers found was that women who ate the most strawberries and blueberries — three or more servings per week — decreased their heart attack risk by 32 percent when compared to women who consumed berries once a month or less. Remarkably, this fact held true even when women who consumed fewer berries ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables.

These findings suggest that berries have benefits that exceed those offered by other fruits and vegetables and should be an integral party of your healthy diet. However, eating a well-balanced diet with wholesome carbohydrates, lean protein sources, healthy fats and a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure you get the range of nutrients essential to good health.

One way to get a daily dose of berries, which is growing in popularity, is through bioactive beverages or nutrient infusions. Many products exist on the market that combine a variety of superfruits — which include berries — into a concentrated nutrient infusion providing a range of beneficial nutrients. Most supply ample nutrients by drinking only one to four ounces daily.

Other ways to incorporate these health-promoting berries into your diet is by adding them to yogurt or cereal, mixing them into your whole-grain muffin mix, as part of a fruit and vegetable smoothie (see the recipe in TranformWise), dipping them into dark chocolate (you get more flavonoids this way), or topping your green salad with them.

(1) Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, et al. High Anthocyanin Intake Is Associated With a Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Young and Middle-Aged Women. Circulation. 2013;127:188-96.