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Small study reveals how long it takes for a Westernised diet to alter your metabolism

by , 23 March 2017
Small study reveals how long it takes for a Westernised diet to alter your metabolism
As it turns out, the Westernised diet - topped with butter, featuring junk food like fatty microwavable meals, instant noodles, pizza, doughnuts and biscuits - doesn't take long to do some really bad things to your metabolism.

Just how long, you ask? According to a small study recently published in the journal Obesity, following a junk food diet for just five days can wreak havoc on your metabolism and lead to serious problems like oxidative stress. Read on for more.

Small study finds that a diet rich in processed foods takes five days to alter your metabolism

The researchers behind the study wanted to test how skeletal muscles adapt when people overindulge in processed foods. They looked at 12 healthy, college-aged male participants and put them on a diet designed by researchers, including a control diet.
 
Researchers formulated the control diet so that it was identical in calories to the processed diet.
 
Participants assigned to the processed food diet group got 55% of their calories from fat. Furthermore, 18% of their total calories came from saturated fat – that’s way more saturated fat than the average American eats! In the control group, participants consumed 30% fat. 
 
“When we were toying around with what diet we were going to use, we looked at things like gift certificates for McDonald’s. But a McDonald’s diet isn’t even saturated enough compared to what we fed the people in our study,” reported Matthew W Hulver, PhD, department head of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Virginia Tech in the USA.

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Those in the processed diet group ate foods that feature in a typical Westernised diet, including ham and cheese sandwiches with lots of buttery, fatty microwavable meals and macaroni and cheese. Researchers took biopsies from the participants before and after the high-fat feeding.
 
Researchers revealed that when they looked at specific gene targets, the effects on the metabolism were drastic. “The normal response to a meal was essentially either blunted or just not there after five days of high-fat feeding,” said Hulver.
 
Hulver explained that prior to going on a one-week long processed food diet, when the participants ate a normal meal, they had big increases in oxidative stress targets four hours later. After the five-day fat infusion, that response eradicated. 
 
What’s more, under normal conditions, their biopsied muscle used glucose as a source of fuel by oxidising glucose. Hulver said that this was essentially wiped out, too. “We were surprised how robust the effects were just with five days,” he concluded.
 

If five days of eating junk food messes with the metabolism, the chronic effects raise questions

Hulver said that the participants’ overall insulin sensitivity didn’t change in the five-day period, their findings suggest that longer exposure to a diet full of processed food can lead to insulin resistance.
 
He added that if five days of consuming highly processed food is all it takes to alter your metabolism, the chronic effects of following such an eating regime raise some interesting questions. “Our question is: does this prime the body? When you go into a period where you are overconsuming calories, would individuals who have a chronic high fat diet be predisposed to weight gain?”
 
He admitted that he doesn’t know the answer yet and that further research is needed to find out.

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