German Scientists: “One Cheat Meal CAN Hurt”

It’s something few of us will want to hear: Scientists at the German Diabetes Center, Dusseldorf and Helhmoltz Center, Munich are making the claim that just one over-fat meal really can harm us.

According to a study published in February in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, research participants of a normal weight given a palm oil-laden drink equivalent in fat to a giant fast-food meal were slapped with reduced insulin (glucose clean-up) action and an increase in liver fat.

What makes the results so daunting is that they were immediate, following just one meal.

But is it time to panic yet – or worse, throw in the towel on your whole day (or week) because the damage has already been done?

Not so fast, say study critics, who point out that the results were short-term (immediate, in fact), did not prove a longer or more permanent degree of damage, were produced on slim people, and were specific to palm oil, which itself may or may not be a factor.

“Overeating” as Defined By The Study

The German scientists did not make a general claim as to what overeating or over-fat might men in general, but did give specifics as to what the study participants consumed.

The flavored drink’s negative health factor was based on total fat content, not on calories, and contained as much fat as two cheeseburgers plus French fries, or two meat-laden pizzas.

Because fat specifically was ingested, further research is needed to determine just how temporary the fat increase noted in the liver of each subject was.

The Insulin Resistance Factor

However, the other, and potentially more urgent, issue is how the respondents’ insulin response was impacted following the heavy drink. The participants were not noted to have insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, but their insulin action was impacted nevertheless.

For a healthy individual – particularly if such a large intake of fat and/or calories were only occasional – this might not have a negative overall health impact. But for individuals suffering from NAFLD, or for people who are overweight but do not have an NAFLD diagnosis, reduced insulin activity and an increased period of time of glucose in the blood, could be a larger problem, both immediately and over time.

This means for either slim or overweight people of any health status, that one giant cheeseburger meal could eventually add up.

Should You or Shouldn’t You? How Cheating Impacts Your Diet

One’s diet is a personal thing. If you’re on a fat/weight reduction diet specifically, then it’s all the more personal. In other words, what works for you may work for the next person – but it might not.

But one thing is nearly universal: when we allow ourselves what we determine to be a small cheat, a certain percentage of us (and not a small one, either) will increase it in increments until, potentially, there’s a problem.

This means if you decide upon one cheat meal per week, the meal may over time get bigger; you may figure if once “didn’t hurt,” twice won’t either; or you may be triggered either physically or emotionally by your “cheat” and end up going off the rails for the entire day, or longer.

If you know any of the above describe you, it may be best to stay away from planned cheats and work around potentially bad food choice situations, such as going away on vacation or a business trip or realizing you’ve forgotten your lunch at home. Scope out healthier choices in the area or ask chefs or fast food restaurants to modify your meal (no chips or fries, lettuce-wrapped rather than a bun, grilled chicken v. the burger or breaded chicken, etc.).

Whether you have an NAFLD condition or are looking to keep one from occurring, your take-home from the study should be that we really don’t know yet what even one negative food choice will do, but there’s no need to panic, either. Instead, make good food choices whenever and wherever you can, and beware of slippery slopes such as that “just once won’t hurt” super-size meal that could super size itself in ways you hadn’t even considered.


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