July 6, 2009, Updated October 6, 2014

Before you sink your teeth into that tasty looking white roll, you might like to bear in mind a new study from Israel that shows exactly how devastating foods high in carbohydrates – like white bread, and cornflakes – can actually be to the health of your heart.

Though the health industry has been warning for decades that simple carbohydrates like these aren’t good for our cardiac health, now a researcher from Tel Aviv University has developed a new technique that enables you to take a look inside the arteries as the damage happens, explaining for the first time the actual connection between carbohydrates and heart disease.

Using a clinical and research technique pioneered by his laboratory in Israel, Dr. Michael Shechter of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and the Heart Institute of Sheba Medical Center was able to visualize what happens inside our arteries before, during and after eating high carb foods – a first in medical history.

“Looking inside” the arteries of students eating a variety of foods Shechter, working in collaboration with the Endocrinology Institute, found that foods with a high glycemic index distended brachial arteries for several hours.

While elasticity of arteries throughout in body is found in young people and can be beneficial, when aggravated over time, a sudden expansion of the artery wall can cause a number of negative health effects, including reduced elasticity, which can lead to heart disease or sudden death.

Connecting the dots between diet and disease

“It’s very hard to predict heart disease,” says Shechter, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. “But doctors know that high glycemic foods rapidly increase blood sugar. Those who binge on these foods have a greater chance of sudden death from heart attack. Our research connects the dots, showing the link between diet and what’s happening in real time in the arteries.”

Using 56 healthy volunteers, the researchers looked at four groups. One group ate a cornflake mush mixed with milk, a second a pure sugar mixture, the third bran flakes, while the last group was given a placebo (water).

Over four weeks, Dr. Shechter applied his method of “brachial reactive testing” to each group. The test uses a cuff on the arm, like those used to measure blood pressure, which can visualize arterial function in real time.

The results, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, were dramatic. Before any of the patients ate, arterial function was essentially the same. After eating, except for the placebo group, all had reduced functioning.

High carb foods put undue stress on our arteries

Enormous peaks indicating arterial stress were found in the high glycemic index groups: the cornflakes and sugar group. “We knew high glycemic foods were bad for the heart. Now we have a mechanism that shows how,” says Shechter. “Foods like cornflakes, white bread, French fries, and sweetened soda all put undue stress on our arteries.”

Using this method, Shechter has been able to show for the first time exactly how high glycemic carbs can affect the progression of heart disease. During the consumption of foods high in sugar, there appears to be a temporary and sudden dysfunction in the endothelial walls of the arteries.

Shechter, who practices at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center – Tel Hashomer Hospital, says that endothelial health can be traced back to almost every disorder and disease in the body. It is “the riskiest of the risk factors,” he says Shechter.

Now Shechter offers a treatment at Tel Hashomer that can show patients – in real time – if they are at high risk of a heart attack. Medical tourists from America regularly visit to take the heart test.

So what’s the answer? Shechter says we should stick to foods like oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, which have a low glycemic index. He also suggests daily exercise of at least 30 minutes.

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Jason Harris

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