You usually watch your diet. But today you’re at a wedding, overindulging in fatty and caloric foods. Can one super-sized meal hurt? It might, recent research has found.
Large fatty meals can have a variety of immediate adverse effects, which are most risky if you already have heart disease or risk factors for it. Here are some troubles you can experience from just one splurge:
• Stiffer arteries, reduced blood flow. Large high-fat meals can impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate or expand when necessary. That helps explain why people who have cardiovascular disease and who eat a large meal and then exercise sometimes get angina or even a heart attack. Digesting any kind of large meal also causes your heart rate to increase because of the increased demands from the digestive tract.
• Higher blood pressure. A super-sized meal can trigger the re¬¬lease of norepinephrine, a stress hormone that can raise blood pressure and heart rate.
• High triglycerides. Any meal will raise levels of these fats in the blood, but after a large meal (especially one rich in fat or refined carbohydrates) levels rise the most and can remain elevated for six to twelve hours. Accompany the food with alcohol, and triglycerides will rise even more.
• Blood sugar effects. If you have diabetes, a super-sized meal can impair your body’s ability to process glucose.
• Heartburn. If you are prone to heartburn, the larger the meal, the more gastric reflux you’re likely to experience.
Antidotes to super-sized meals?
Years ago, a small study found that taking high doses of vitamin C and E right before a high-fat meal helped maintain arterial blood flow. But it has never been shown that these or any other antioxidants can protect your heart in the short term or long term. Another small study found that when young healthy people walked briskly for 45 minutes after eating a large fatty meal (almost 1,000 calories), the exercise helped restore their arteries’ ability to dilate. Still, exercise won’t cancel out all the bad effects of overeating. In addition, the same effects may not occur in older or less healthy people; for them, exercise after a heavy meal may cause problems.
Words to the wise: If you’re healthy, overindulging occasionally shouldn’t be a problem. But if you have undesirable cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes or pre-existing heart disease, or if you are very overweight or smoke, super-sized meals are a bad idea. At parties and family gatherings, don’t arrive ravenous, and don’t hover near the buffet. Eat lots of filling foods with a high water content, such as salads, soups, fruits and vegetables. And eat slowly, since it takes time for your body to signal your brain that you’re full. It can’t hurt to take that after-dinner walk, either.