Food as Medicine

How a Good Steak Dinner Might Protect Your Heart

TIMEDecember 23, 2021

How many times have you heard a meal of red meat, butter, eggs or other saturated fat-laden foods called “artery clogging” or “a recipe for a heart attack?” What if we have it all wrong and those fatty meals are actually protecting our hearts in the event of an attack?

That seems to be the message from a 2011 laboratory study from the University of Cincinnati which shows that short-term, high-fat “splurges” in your diet could trigger cardio-protective properties during a heart attack.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and it findings were presented  at the Experimental Biology Meeting sponsored by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.  It found that animals fed a high-fat regimen for a short-term achieved cardio-protection against myocardial infarction (heart attack) and suffered less cardiac tissue damage.

According to the primary researcher, Lauren Haar, a doctoral student in the Systems Biology and Physiology Graduate Program, “previous clinical studies have supported the idea that certain patients with high serum cholesterol levels have better survival rates when their heart fails after cardiac ischemic injury than those with lower cholesterol levels.” So why are so many people on statins to lower their cholesterol?

According to Haar, the prior research on longer term high-fat diets in animals found an improvement in heart function. This study addressed the short-term effect of a high-fat diet on heart attacks.

Researchers fed one group of mice a high-fat diet (60 percent of the calories from saturated fat) for two weeks or less. A second group received the high-fat diet for six weeks, and a control group received a regular grain and vegetable diet.

When heart attacks were induced in the poor rats, the injury in those fed a high-fat diet for two weeks or less was reduced by 70 percent when compared to those fed a high-fat diet for six weeks, or fed the grain and vegetable diet. There was no cardio-protection observed in the six-week group, indicating to the researchers that short-term splurges are key, and the effects of sustained high-fat feeding, including obesity and diabetes, may not contribute to cardio-protection.

In addition, animals fed a high-fat diet for just 24 hours and then returned to the control diet for 24 hours prior to a heart attack experienced a prolonged protection against injury.  This led the researchers to conclude that short-term high-fat feeding at least in animal models preserves cardiac function.

While most nutrition and dietary advice continues to characterize high-saturated fat foods like red meat and butter as “bad,” the science is proving otherwise.

Margie King
Margie King is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. A Wharton M.B.A. and corporate attorney for 20 years, she left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. Margie is the author of Nourishing Menopause: The Whole Food Guide to Balancing Your Hormones Naturally. She is also a professional copywriter and natural health, beauty and nutrition writer. To contact Margie, visit