You eat it when you're feeling blue, you eat it when you're drunk at 3am, you can even eat it for breakfast, and it's the signature food of Montreal. We are, of course, talking about poutine, the most beloved Montreal meal that just about everyone loves to eat, including us.
Far from a "healthy meal" in anyone's mind, poutine is heralded as the ultimate comfort meal, the food so many of us go to when we just want to feel good and full on the cheap. But what lurks inside a poutine is far from a pretty picture, and you'd be shocked to see how a single poutine can affect your body.
With the help of Montreal-based dietitian Janice Cohen, B.Sc., RD, we've delved into exactly what happens to your body after eating a poutine. From the first bite to hours afterwards, the results may be a little shocking, and may even make you rethink your next poutine, at least for a second.
To start off, lets see exactly how a poutine breaks down nutritionally. Canada's Nutrient Profile has a poutine breakdown of their own, based on a 100g portion. But as we know, most poutines are about 400-500 grams in size. Here's the much-closer-to-reality nutritional profile of a poutine, as provided by Janice:
What's Inside A Poutine
- Total Fat: about 60g
- Saturated fat: about 24g
- Cholesterol: about 200 mg
- Carbohydrate: 60 g
- Sodium, Na: 2400 mg
- Energy: approx. 1000 kcal
Those numbers might not mean much to you just like that, so let us put things into perspective, starting with what happens right after you finish your poutine.
Right After: You'll Feel Good
Anyone who has ever eaten a poutine doesn't need to be told the heavenly state the greasy dish can induce; few feelings are more pleasurable than the final few bites of a poutine. But it's not just flavour that causes poutine-euphoria.
When your body takes in a lot of calories at once, a chemical in your body is released called dopamine. A "feel good chemical," dopamine is kind of like a reward ingrained into our bodies back when humans didn't have a lot of calories/food readily available.
A poutine, clocking in at about 1000 calories, will definitely qualify for some dopamine-release, making you feel incredibly good. This isn't unlike the chemical reaction experienced by drug addicts, and can lead to addictive eating, while also making you feel like a poutine is good for you, when it's clearly not.
Your Blood Sugar Goes Nuts & You Get Hungry
Glucose, the compound that puts the "sugar" in blood sugar, is essential to the human body. After you've eaten a meal, your body breaks down its constituents into glucose and your blood sugar rises. When eating healthy meals with simple carbohydrates, the blood sugar breakdown is smooth and beneficial to your health. When consuming a big ol' meal like poutine, things get a little messier.
Your body's blood sugar response can last up to two hours when eating a large meal like a poutine, with the excess of glucose giving your body far more blood sugar than you need. A starch-filled meal like poutine can actually make your blood sugar level skyrocket, making your pancreas (which secretes insulin to makes sure your cells can access glucose in your blood) respond in kind.
To balance out a huge poutine, your body's insulin reaction can actually bring your glucose levels super low, to the point that you actually feel incredibly hungry. Older folks will feel this effect even more. The end result is that even an hour or two after you've eaten a huge poutine, you'll actually feel hungry, even though your body doesn't really need any more food.
Your Arteries Will Clog
High triglyceride levels are a serious repercussion of high fat content in foods, and poutine is chock full of 'em. A large poutine, incredibly high in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and refined carbs, can raise the triglyceride levels in your blood for 6-12 hours after consumption. Triglyceride levels will rise even higher if you have alcohol in your system, which most people eating a late-night poutine probably do. The result is a hardening of the arteries and thickening of artery walls.
Granted, a single poutine isn't going to clog your heart up, but when you consider the negative effect of triglycerides on the body, and how the fat can accumulate in your system over time, frequent poutine-eaters may want to be wary of their heart's health.
Your Blood Pressure Goes Way Up, And Even More Hunger
When it comes to sodium, poutine is a monster. Packing 2500mg of sodium per portion, a poutine easily exceeds the daily recommended intake of sodium, which is set at 2300mg.
All that sodium definitely isn't good for your body, and can trigger the release of norepinephrine, a stress-related hormone that can raise one's blood pressure and heart rate. Add some regular stress to the mix, like a bad morning at work with a poutine for lunch, and your blood pressure will raise even higher.
Sodium can also make your body dehydrated in large quantities, a bodily state that can feel like hunger. Add the hungry feeling created by dehydration to the hunger-pangs caused by a spike in insulin release, and you have a double-whammy of cravings, even when you don't really need more food.
Days After: A Super Long Digestion Time, Thanks To Fat
While no one can really say how long a super-fatty meal like poutine will take to fully digest, studies have shown that any meal can take from 24 to 72 hours to fully digest. Given that poutine contains tons of fat, which takes the longest time to digest, and is quite low in protein content, you can expect a poutine to stay in your system really close to that 72-hour mark.