Everyone knows that eating too much high-fat food over long periods of time can have a disastrous effect on health, increasing the risk of obesity and developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But it seems that even a few days of binge eating high-fat food in the midst of an otherwise balanced diet can play havoc with your metabolism.
Indulging your appetite on a short holiday may not seem like a big deal; you’ll go back to your regular diet in a few days, you tell yourself. However, researchers have found that a diet of excess fatty foods for only five days can have a long-term effect on the way your muscles metabolize glucose.
Metabolism is the complex process by which cells convert food to energy, which they use to grow, reproduce, repair themselves and react to changes. Even at rest a body uses up energy; up to 70% of the total calories that a person burns every day is just for basic functions such as breathing, heartbeat and thinking. People metabolize three types of fuel: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Of the carbohydrates, the most important one is glucose, which is the simplest form of sugar and easiest to metabolize. During its metabolization glucose gets oxidized (combined with oxygen) and produces carbon dioxide and water as byproducts. Besides coming directly from food and drink, glucose can also be produced by the liver. The amount of glucose that is produced by the liver, the concentration of glucose in the blood, and the absorption and metabolization of glucose by muscles is controlled by the hormone insulin. If the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, it can lead to type 1 diabetes, or if the body doesn’t respond to insulin, it can lead to type 2 diabetes.
In the experiment, reported by Food Navigator, study author Matt Hulver, from Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and his team looked at the effect of a high-fat diet on 12 healthy college-age men. They were divided into two groups of six. All the subjects were fed a fatty diet with foods such as sausage biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and food containing butter. The diet contained about 55% fat, as opposed to a normal diet which contains about 30% fat. However, the total calorie content was kept the same as what they consumed before. In one of the groups, the men were given one extra high fat meal (consisting of 880 kcal, of which 63% was fat, 25% was carbohydrate, and 12% was protein) just before and another extra high fat meal just after the 5-day high-fat diet period.
In the first group, the high-fat diet did not have any effect on muscle metabolism or insulin sensitivity. In the second group, which had an extra high-fat meal before and after the 5-day high-fat diet, the team found that the ability of the muscles to oxidize glucose after the high-fat meal was disrupted. “Most people think they can indulge in high fat foods for a few days and get away with it. But all it takes is five days for your body’s muscle to start to protest,” said Hulver.
However, participants did not gain weight from the 5 days of high-fat eating, nor did they have any signs of insulin resistance, the authors said. That said, these disruptions in metabolism in the second group have the potential to cause the body to not respond to insulin, which in turn could lead to diabetes and other ailments.
One limitation of the study is that the sample size was small, and people in general may not respond this way. The researchers plan to study how these short-term metabolic changes affect the long-term health of a person and whether changing back to a healthy diet can reverse the harmful outcomes.
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