Health

Why eating a lot of fat is worse for men than women

Zoe Williams eating a burger

It's generally agreed that eating too much fat is bad for you, but exactly how much damage it can do depends on whether you are a man or a woman, writes Dr Zoe Williams.

Eating too much fat can make you put on weight and lead to heart disease - especially if you eat too much of the wrong kind of fat, such as the omega-6 fats found in many processed foods. But now it seems sausages, pastries and cakes are even worse for men than they are for women.

A recent study measured how the two sexes responded when they spent a week eating large amounts of these foods and how it affected their ability to control blood sugar levels. I wanted to test this diet myself, and in order to compare my response to that of a man I persuaded the person behind the research, Dr Matt Cocks of Liverpool John Moores University, to join me.

Before we started, our body fat was measured and our blood sugar levels recorded. We were given glucose monitors to wear to keep track of our blood sugar throughout the week.

Image caption The food which Zoe had to eat during the week

Zoe's typical day on the high fat diet

  • Breakfast: Three eggs, 30g cheddar cheese, 60g chorizo, 10g butter
  • Lunch: 10g butter, cheese and onion roll, pork pie, two cheese strings
  • Dinner: 150g pork belly, 30g cheddar cheese, 60g coleslaw, three hash browns
  • Snacks: Can of cola, 30g nuts

In order to have an impact in just one week, our diet contained about 50% more calories than we would normally eat. A typical evening meal included a couple of sausages, some hash browns, a few slices of bacon, and a lump of cheese.

Twice during the week, Matt and I also drank a sugary drink to introduce sugar into our blood stream. This mimics what happens when we eat carbohydrates which our bodies break down into sugars. The glucose monitors would be able to show us whether the diet was affecting our ability to clear this sugar from our blood.

When we looked at the results we saw that, like the women in Matt's study, my ability to control my blood sugar levels didn't get any worse on the diet. Matt, however, got 50% worse at clearing glucose from his blood.

The same trend was apparent in Matt's research, where on average men got 14% worse at controlling their sugar levels.

"One of the first steps towards type 2 diabetes is poorer control of glucose," says Matt. "So what we're seeing here, is that I've really lowered my control of sugar, and if I continued with that for a long time, that would probably progress me to type 2 diabetes."


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Trust Me, I'm A Doctor is on BBC Two at 20:00 GMT, Wednesday 15 February - catch up on BBC iPlayer

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The diet Matt and I undertook was extreme but in the real world the same processes will be happening to a lesser extent in people who regularly over consume unhealthy fats.

So what can men do about it?

The best advice is to eat a balanced diet but exercise can also help.

"If you have a meal and then you exercise, then you're going to start to burn that meal," says Matt. "So say you eat a very high fat meal or a sugary meal, you can start to remove the negative effects by going for a walk afterwards."

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