What are the true risks associated with eating a greasy meal?
February 21, 2009 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What are the true cardiovascular risks associated with eating a greasy meal?

Out of curiosity, over the last couple of years I've seen many people comment on various sites about the so called heart attack inducing food that Americans are eating these days. Bacon, 'Hungry Man' dinners, and oversized hamburgers are often involved. Generally things that are greasy.

I understand how arteries can clog, but my assumption is that it would take a fairly long time of eating fatty foods for clogging to become a problem. So, the question is, could a single non-healthy meal induce cardiovascular distress, or is this an internet meme? How quickly does an unhealthy greasy meal get into the bloodstream?

Not looking for a thorough explanation, just whether it's possible.
posted by hungrysquirrels to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Within hours, a single non-healthy meal (or really any meal) will alter the concentrations of a lipoproteins and triglycerides (how fat is carried around in blood) in your blood stream. As far as I know, this will not induce cardiovascular distress directly and suddenly, but over time a generally bad diet may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (aka "clogged arteries"), which also puts one at greater risk for heart attacks and other problems.
posted by drpynchon at 9:56 AM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't believe the effects of "an unhealthy greasy meal" have been quantified, particularly due to vagueness.
posted by rhizome at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2009

Response by poster: I don't believe the effects of "an unhealthy greasy meal" have been quantified, particularly due to vagueness

True, which raised the question... is there a restaurant meal that would induce a heart attack in an otherwise somewhat healthy person (disregarding poisons and so forth).
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:17 AM on February 21, 2009

I worry more about sodium than fat
posted by Maisie Jay at 10:20 AM on February 21, 2009

is there a restaurant meal that would induce a heart attack in an otherwise somewhat healthy person

No. A large meal may be a trigger for a heart attack, but it doesn't cause a heart attack on its own. Assuming your somewhat healthy person does not have any of the underlying causes of heart attacks already, a single large meal is not going to trigger a heart attack.
posted by ssg at 10:27 AM on February 21, 2009

No it can't. Yes, it's a meme...to the degree that people are aware of it. I've never heard of any "single meal heart attack" stories or paranoias or anything like that, but I'm sure they're out there. Not sure it has risen to the level of a meme yet.
posted by rhizome at 10:38 AM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: I wouldn't call it a meme so much as an extreme simplification and over exaggeration. Like calling fettuccine alfredo "heart attack on a plate". Is one going to hurt you? No. Eat like that every single day? It's probably a heart attack on a cumulative plate, but not necessarily, as there are many factors at play.

Now, while a single meal won't necessarily cause a heart attack, I can tell you from personal experience that a single meal can trigger a panic attack which may make you think you're having a heart attack.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:46 AM on February 21, 2009

It is theoretically possible for a meal to "trigger" a heart attack, but this would have very little to do with the content of that particular meal. If you were already in a condition such that you were ready to have a heart attack at any moment, the physiological and metabolic changes that occur when eating (changes in blood pressure, etc.) could very well knock a bit of plaque loose or dislodge a clot. But if you were in that condition anyways, the same thing could happen if you walked up a flight of stairs, so the fact that a meal was involved is more or less accidental.

But if you currently aren't suffering from atherosclerosis or other cardiac problems, no, eating one greasy meal cannot cause a heart attack.
posted by valkyryn at 10:49 AM on February 21, 2009

Okay, here's how to perform this experiment. Measure your cholesterol and blood pressure before eating said greasy meal, and enter your stats here to calculate your 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease.

Then eat your greasy meal, and remeasure your cholesterol and blood pressure, then recalculate using the same tool. Repeat as many times as you like/as many times as the lab will take your bloodwork.

(Since triglycerides are likely to be the main thing raised acutely after eating a greasy meal, and since they aren't measured in this risk calculator, I'm going to guess that one big, greasy meal is not likely to exert that much of a difference on your overall risk of heart attack.)

Warning: Totally unscientific experiment. But sounds like fun, doesn't it?
posted by peggynature at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2009

Heavy Meals Linked to Heart Attacks
posted by terranova at 11:23 AM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: Above link is for subscription only, so here are excerpts:

Heavy Meals Linked to Heart Attacks

New York (MedscapeWire) Nov 15 — "A new study suggests that gluttony may trigger a potentially deadly medical complication, such as a heart attack.

Reporting in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the American Heart Association's 73rd Scientific Sessions, a US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) researcher finds that people at risk for heart disease were 4 times more likely than others to suffer a myocardial infarction (MI) soon after eating a big meal..."

"The researchers believe there are 2 possible explanations for how a heavy meal could bring on a heart attack. One is that fatty meals may affect the function of the endothelium, the inner layer of the arteries, although details about what the patients ate were not recorded for this study. Another explanation is that eating increases the blood level of norepinephrine, a hormone that acutely raises blood pressure and pulse rate..."
posted by terranova at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2009

Lippoproteins and trigliceride concentrations in the blood are just one part of the picture. Researchers are discovering that eating a meal high in saturated fats actually causes the arteries to become less elastic, reducing the blood flow through them.

In plain language, what they discovered was that a meal high in saturated fats causes the blood to become more likely to stick to the artery walls while a meal high in unsaturated fats does not have the same effect (in fact they discovered that it causes the blood to become less sticky).

So, that explains how diets high in saturated fats could cause heart attacks - in cases where the heart arteries are already clogged with plaque, increasing the stickiness of blood could cause pieces of the plaque to break out and block a narrower opening.

I read somewhere else that vigorous aerobic exercise an hour before eating the high fat meal was found to negate the effects of the arterial elasticity loss; I can't find that paper online - I may have read it in a magazine.
posted by Arthur Dent at 11:28 AM on February 21, 2009


Total cholesterol can be calculated as equal to HDL + LDL + Triglycerides/5, so triglycerides will effect your risk score. There's really no reason to perform such an 'experiment' because a) you already know the cholesterol will be higher after a meal, b) the Framingham risk calculation (what you're linking to) really only applies (if at all) to fasting lipids anyway.
posted by drpynchon at 11:32 AM on February 21, 2009

Ooof, I forgot the TGs are measured in total cholesterol, drpynchon.

At any rate, one could remeasure he cholesterol the day following the fatty meal, I suppose, to get fasting values. I wouldn't expect there to be a difference, but it might be fun to try.
posted by peggynature at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2009

The way I understand it (and I welcome anyone to correct me if they actually know what they are talking about) is:

1. You can pretty much take Lance Armstrong and sit him in front of a KFC buffet for 3 hours. He will consume a monstrous amount of nasty stuff...but it won't kill him because it would take weeks, months or even years of this habit to do something dramatic to his body.

2. You can take a dude who eats mcdonalds for breakfast, burger king for lunch, and pizza for dinner on a regular basis and sit him at the same buffet for 30 minutes. This dude is way more likely to die because of the junk that has built up in his system.

Although...the next time Armstrong gets on a bike, he WILL feel that meal.

I used to eat like krap...and engage in no physical activity whatsoever. Then I got in shape. I'm talking like 8% body fat, 47BPM HR. I skipped dinner one night and instead had 2 nasty ass hot dogs that tasted like heaven. The next day when I woke up for my 4 mile run...I was dying. Sure I finished the run...but it really did hurt. I was not going to die, nor did I get fat because those hot dogs, but I sure as hell felt the nastiness of the sodium, fats, and nasty nasty meat in my system. I had no idea that would happen.

OH...and if you want to know HOW cholesterol levels change on a daily basis...meMail me...i ran a "kinda experiment" with insurance companies who were trying to insure me for $$$ big money...but what I got instead was a cholesterol reading everyday after eating various foods. meMail me if you're looking for that.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: To expand on Maisie Jay's answer, a high sodium meal seems more likely to cause a rapid problem than a highly fatty one. As the sodium is absorbed into your system, your blood pressure increases. This makes existing plaques more likely to break off inside your arteries to clog something important like a coronary artery, causing a heart attack. Plus, your heart has to work harder to pump the extra blood around, which means it needs more oxygen (just like any muscle that's working harder than usual). A partially-blocked coronary artery limits how much oxygen can get to the heart muscle, making it more likely that a problem will result. Both of these factors depend on the person already having significant arterial buildup, so one Big Mac in the face of a salad-filled lifetime is not going to do it. But for somebody with existing arterial disease (and most people on a western diet have it to some extent by middle age), that one salty meal could matter.
posted by vytae at 2:12 PM on February 21, 2009

"A 930-calorie meal consisting of an Egg McMuffin, a Sausage McMuffin and two McDonald's hash browns appears to trigger inflammation within arteries 'within an hour,'

"those who had eaten the McDonald's meal displayed 'evidence of free radical generation by the circulating white blood cells, which would cause inflammation within the white blood cells'"


posted by djb at 2:19 PM on February 21, 2009

Response by poster: Some interesting info here, and yes, the question was pondered after a McDonalds breakfast :) The 'heart attack on a plate' was essentially what I was after, but it works equally as well as poutine in a styrofoam container.

So, from what I gather, fatty foods produce long-term build-up, but the ones laced with salt are more likely to cause a spike in blood pressure, resulting in short-term undesirable circumstances from previous indulgences.

Makes sense to my limited knowledge.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:28 PM on February 21, 2009

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