Snacking on low-fat food 'bad for heart'

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Snacking on "high-energy" foods that are low in fat could still lead to heart disease because of "Syndrome X", caused when the liver attempts to digest too much food.

Snacking on "high-energy" foods that are low in fat could still lead to heart disease because of "Syndrome X", caused when the liver attempts to digest too much food.

Instead, the best way to eat is to have regular meals separated by a few hours, and to cut out snacks completely, new research suggests.

Studies by scientists examining the growing prevalence of diabetes and heart disease found that even when people avoid high-fat foods, they can create problems for their bodies. That is because the "grazing" form of eating that is becoming prevalent does not allow the liver to recover from digesting food ­ and also because the snacks taken are often high in sugars.

Victor Zammit, head of cell biochemistry at the Hannah Research Institute in Ayr, said food that was high in fruit sugars or fructose (which included household sugars), could have a damaging effect on the liver, and in turn lead to cells becoming insensitive to insulin. That, in turn, may lead to late-onset diabetes, and also to heart disease, caused by the accumulation of fat molecules in the arteries of the heart.

"It's a wake-up call to the food industry," Dr Zammit told New Scientist magazine, which reports the findings today. "Food manufacturers are good at labelling processed foods as '99 per cent fat free'. What they don't say is that they are 15 per cent sugar, which is probably worse than some fats."

He is concerned that "people may deliberately select low-fat processed foods, thinking they are making a healthy choice, and yet the product could be very high in fructose".

Though "Syndrome X" was recognised in the 1980s, its exact path remained unclear until work by Dr Zammit and others showed that it was linked to over-regular eating. He thinks that the liver, which processes the results of digestion, evolved to deal with infrequent meals ­ generally four to five hours apart, and with no snacks in between. If it has to deal with more, the liver actually releases fat unnecessarily into the bloodstream.

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