What Fast Food Does to Your Arteries

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

Ever been tempted to do a drive-through breakfast during a busy morning, particularly as we get into the routine rush after the holidays? A recent study out of the University of Montreal may have you rethinking that. In this study, researchers reported a significant difference in endothelial function of participants’ blood vessels – a measure of long-term cardiovascular risk – after just one fast-food-style meal.

What’s So Bad About Fast Food?

The template of a fast-food-style meal is fairly similar regardless of whether you are looking at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In this study, the fast-food-style meal consisted of a sausage, an egg, a slice of cheese, and three hash browns, which basically means a high-fat (especially saturated fat), high-sodium, high-protein meal with refined carbohydrates and no fresh produce or whole grains. So what kinds of numbers are we looking at?

A McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin breakfast sandwich clocks in at 370 calories, 22 g fat, 14 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, and 820 mg sodium. The hash brown patty has 150 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, and 310 mg sodium. There is a lot of fried product and almost half of your daily sodium limit in just one meal! In addition, there is no fresh produce or whole grains. Many fruits and some vegetables contain potassium, which has been shown to counteract the blood-pressure-raising effect of sodium. In addition, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contribute phytonutrients, fiber, and vitamins, none of which can be found in this fast-food meal.

What One Fast-Food Meal Does to Your Arteries

After the fast-food-style meal in this study, the participants’ arteries dilated 24% less than they did in the fasting state. After eating a healthy Mediterranean-style meal, the arteries dilated normally and there was no impact on blood flow. Measurement of dilation is an indicator of the blood vessel function and is closely linked to the long-term risk of developing coronary artery disease.

The Mediterranean-style meal served in the study consisted of salmon, almonds, and vegetables cooked in olive oil, but it is highly unlikely that most of us would sit down to this type of meal for breakfast. However, there is no excuse: There are many fast ways to put together a healthy homemade breakfast.

The Bottom Line

In our very rushed world, it’s tempting sometimes to give in and say that a fast-food meal won’t hurt. This Montreal study disproves this assumption by showing how the difference in your blood vessels can be shown after just one meal. Imagine what it can do over time! Avoid the drive-through trap: Invest a bit of preparation time and stock your pantry and fridge with easy ingredients that allow you to put together a quick breakfast on the run.

Health, Lifestyle

healthy dine-out, heart smart


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