The burger and fries lying on the plate before you looks and smells appealing. You can’t wait to bite into the juicy sandwich and taste the salty, greasy fried potatoes. In fact, your mouth waters just thinking about it. Most of us have been there, and it’s undeniable that even though we know it’s going to be a delicious experience, we also know it’s not the healthiest of meal choices. But do we know why?
You know that both the burger and fries have unhealthy levels of fat and salt in them and are primarily carbohydrate-rich foods. This leads us to initially concentrate our thoughts on the likelihood of weight gain and higher blood pressure when consuming a diet with high concentrations of fat and carbohydrates.
But honestly, the more troubling aspect of high-fat, high-carbohydrate meals is that they seem to stimulate oxidative stress and inflammation in our bodies. Oxidative stress, an imbalance between pro-oxidant molecules (too many bad guys) and antioxidant molecules (too few good guys), allows the pro-oxidant molecules to damage the lining of tissues. Once damaged, toxins contained in food find their way into the cells beneath the protective lining and disrupt the normal functioning of cells.
In response to both the overabundance of pro-oxidant molecules (often referred to as free radicals) and the presence of toxins, our cells emit panicked signals to the warehouses of infection-fighting white blood cells to respond and neutralize the bad guys. In fact, the cells become so freaked out over the invading, unhealthy substances, that they send out dramatically more signals than are necessary. This results in the body sending an overwhelming number of white blood cells to the tissues where the calls for help originate. The massive amount of white blood cells and associated fluid in which they travel cause inflammation (swelling of tissues).
Persistent inflammation makes it hard for us to breathe, digest, move, think and sleep. It also lowers our immunity to the presence of real bad guys (bacteria, fungi, viruses) because so many of our white blood cells are fighting the damage done by the food we eat (among other things) that there are not enough white blood cells to adequately suppress the microbes that make us feel sick. Bet you didn’t think that a burger and fries could cause all that havoc!
3 Ways to Deal With Oxidative Stress & Inflammation
To lower oxidative stress, you can either (1) reduce your intake of high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, (2) increase your consumption of antioxidant-rich foods or add antioxidant-rich dietary supplements to your daily regimen or (3) both — which is our recommended course of action.
A case in point. A new study published online last week in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism examined the effectiveness of consuming antioxidants in close proximity to a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal. While the study was small (10 subjects) and the duration of the study was short (two 1-day evaluations), the results were intriguing. 
The 10 study participants (six females, four males) were asked to fast overnight. The following morning each subject was provided a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal of 930 calories (similar calorie count to a quarter-pound burger and a large order of fries). Approximately 10 minutes before the meal, half of the subjects were given 100mg of Resveratrol plus an additional 75mg of grape seed extract. The other half received a placebo pill. Then the researchers drew blood samples at 1 hour, 3 hours and 5 hours post-meal. One week later, the study participants went through the same experiment switching roles (those who received the placebo in the first week consumed Resveratrol/grape seed extract the second week and vice versa).
In particular, the study team desired to evaluate the effect of the high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal on known markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in the blood samples. Further, they desired to assess whether Resveratrol and the complementary grape seed extract had any effect on the inflammation/stress markers. Resveratrol is a potent type of antioxidant known as a polyphenol and is found in red grapes and in a number other plants — a common source of Resveratrol in dietary supplements is Japanese knot weed). Grape seed extract also contains Resveratrol, as well as a number of other polyphenol/antioxidant compounds.
The results were dramatic. Those consuming the high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal without Resveratrol saw their levels of a protein inflammation marker known as “p47phox” rise by 48%. Those who consumed the same meal but received Resveratrol experienced essentially no increase in this inflammation-signaling protein. In another oxidative stress marker, blood levels of LBP (lipoprotein binding protein) in the meal/no antioxidant group rose by 38%, and again the Resveratrol/grape seed extract group levels were flat with baseline (meaning no increase). Similar results were found in nearly all of the other dozen markers evaluated. The absolute differences varied by time of blood draw post-meal, but overall the trends were consistent, clear and unambiguous.
The researchers commented, “In conclusion, the intake of a resveratrol and polyphenol-based nutritional supplement before an HFHC [high-fat, high-carbohydrate] meal significantly reduced multiple indices of oxidative and inflammatory stress.”
Whether Resveratrol and grape seed extract alone among antioxidants produce this effect is unlikely, but this study at least demonstrates the overall point — increased antioxidant consumption in the presence of high-fat, high-carbohydrate meals appears to protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation associated with the unhealthy components of such meals.
As mentioned above, an alternative method of reducing oxidative stress and inflammation is to adopt a diet that is low in unhealthy fats and carbohydrates. One such solution is to follow a Mediterranean Diet. For those who haven’t already read 7 Simple Steps to Healthier You, we’d recommend signing up to receive it and reading the section on the Mediterranean Diet and the benefits it can confer in reducing oxidative stress, inflammation and the resulting health conditions that arise from these persistent antagonists.
In our opinion, readers would be well-advised to consider combining a diet low in unhealthy fats and carbohydrates with supplemental antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. At the very least, the next time you have a craving for a burger and fries, make sure to bring a bottle of Resveratrol along and pop one while you’re waiting for your order!
 Ghanim H, et al. A Resveratrol and Polyphenol Preparation Suppresses Oxidative and Inflammatory Stress Response to a High-Fat, High-Carbohydrate Meal. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Feb 2. [Epub ahead of print]