Sticking to a healthy diet can be a challenge, especially when you’re tempted with regular access to delicious foods. That temptation can escalate when you head off for vacation, where you might find yourself at an all-inclusive resort or a cruise’s all-you-can-eat buffet. While it might not seem like a big deal to indulge for these special occasions, new research out this week has found that even short bursts of high-fat eating can change the way your body processes food. These changes may have health implications for how you gain weight and how your body handles sugar.
How does the body process fats?
When you down a butter-laden biscuit or double bacon cheeseburger your body immediately gets started on breaking it down into smaller pieces. Your stomach starts by churning up the food into small fragments that then move into your intestine. Once there, your pancreas releases enzymes to break down the fats into smaller components. The liver also releases bile, which is kind of like the dish detergent you use to get greasy residue off of your plates. Bile helps to break up the fats into amounts small enough to be absorbed through the wall of the small intestine.
Once inside intestinal cells, the fats get packaged for transport and move through your lymph system to end up in the blood stream. As they circulate through the blood, these packaged fats get picked up by organs like the liver or muscles that use them for energy. Extra fat can get stored by fat cells, which leads to weight gain. High levels of fat have also been linked to diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
How are gut bacteria affected by fat in our diet?
More and more evidence has shown that bacteria play a key role in our health and in how we process food. While many of these bacteria are healthy for us, some can have negative effects. Certain bacteria produce a toxin called endotoxin that can be harmful to the human body. Previous studies showed that these endotoxin producing bacteria are normally kept in check by other members of the community, but that high fat diets can favor these nasty bacteria over the helpful community members.
This seems to be why people who binge on a high fat diet have higher levels of harmful endotoxin in their blood than those who eat a more balanced diet. It’s thought that this high fat diet favors the activity of bacteria that make endotoxin and suppress bacteria who normally keep them in check. These high levels of endotoxin in the blood may then contribute in some way to the development of obesity and diabetes.
What did this study examine?
The researchers recruited 12 college males and had half of them eat a high fat diet with about 55% of their calories coming from fat. The other half got 55% of their calories from carbs and only 30% from fat. The team took blood samples to look at how well the body was handling sugar and how high the levels of endotoxin were. After five days, the research team took a small sample of muscle from each participant and tested it to see what changes the diet had made.
The researchers found that even just five days of a high fat diet was enough to boost a person’s overall levels of harmful endotoxin while also changing the way muscles break down sugar and use it for energy. The researchers think that the increased endotoxin might be at least partly responsible for the muscle’s new trouble using sugar. This was the case even though the blood samples didn’t show any changes in sugar handling overall.
How does this affect me?
This study shows that short binges of unhealthy, high-fat eating can affect the way your body processes food, which may lead to an increased risk for diseases like obesity or diabetes. That’s not to say that you should fret over every high-fat meal. But it does indicate that you should be careful about going overboard on vacation or special events that may tempt you with meal after meal of fatty treats.