One of the most exciting scientific observations in decades is that eating the right food, with a focus on fruits and vegetables, can have a positive impact on the genetic activity of our cells. Eating a healthy diet can not only prevent disease, but it can heal chronic illness.
Despite this progress in epigenetics, I've found that if you start singing the praises of a vegan diet, you should prepare yourself for some pretty passionate backlash. (Think: John Belushi in the cafeteria fight in Animal House.)
Diet is not only a matter of nutrition science and clinical research, but it's also deeply rooted in upbringing, culture, family, and convenience. That's why, even though I strongly believe that a low-fat, plant-based diet is the best approach for personal (and planetary) health, and even though high fat meals have been shown to result in a rapid decline in the function of arteries, I realize that many people are going to continue to eat high-fat meals rich in animal products.
So, given that many of us are going to eat unhealthy meals occasionally, I wanted to look at what strategies can blunt the adverse effects of high fat foods and at least make the meal neutral to our health. Here are some ideas:
1. Eat a green vegetable with every meal.
A group of researchers at the University of Maryland looked at what happens to arteries after you eat meals rich in fat, including extra-virgin olive oil. They found that after eating a high-fat meal, people had a rapid decline in artery function. However, when they combined the same fatty meal with a salad, the decline was not observed. More recently, scientists saw that eating a hospital hamburger patty caused arteries to constrict in an unhealthy manner, but if the hamburger was combined with a slice of avocado the effect was not observed.
2. Drink grape juice.
Scientists in Chile studied volunteers fed a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and saw that their arteries reacted in a healthier manner to stress when compared to volunteers eating a higher fat meal. However, when red wine was a consistent accompaniment to the high fat meal, there was a protective effect observed on the measurement of arterial health. A second study using purple grape juice saw the same protection.
3. Take an antioxidant-rich supplement.
In another study, subjects with heart disease were fed a high fat meal. Soon after, they experienced a drop in artery health. However, when they were given 2 grams of Vitamin C before the meal, the drop was not observed. In another study, a vitamin supplement made from powered fruit and vegetable concentrates blunted the drop in artery function compared to a placebo supplement.
4. Eat oats.
Another study looked at what happened to volunteers who were fed a high fat meal accompanied by oats. When subject ate a high fat meal, the usual drop in artery function was observed. However, when 60 grams of oatmeal was added to the meal, artery health tended to be preserved. The protective effect was not seen with wheat.
There is no doubt that advances in medical and nutrition science will result in opportunities for an increasing lifespan over the next few decades. The impact of simple lifestyle decisions regarding food, movement, stress management, and sleep have been revealed in large research databases. Your fork can determine your fate.
The strategies described here can protect your health from the artery damage following a meal high in animal sources. The US Food Plate introduced in 2011 recommends half of your plate be covered by vegetables and fruits, a quarter by grains, and the remainder by your choice of protein. Perhaps for the first time, Big Brother seems to have gotten this one right.