[su_dropcap style=”default” size=”3″ class=””]S[/su_dropcap]tress. A word we are all too familiar with and a feeling that we encounter too often. The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as, “the brain’s response to any demand,” and while not all stress is bad, not all stress is good either. It is no surprise that stress can cause serious health problems, but did you know that stress can also undermine the effects of a healthy diet?
Researchers at The Ohio State University recently conducted a study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, to understand the relationship among stress, diet and inflammation in the body. It is well documented that diet and stress can alter inflammation, but researchers were more interested in how this alteration occurred, as chronic inflammation is linked to health issues including heart disease and diabetes. Lead author of the study and professor of psychiatry and psychology, Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, claimed the study is the first to reveal that stress potentially cancels out the benefits of eating healthy fats.
The research consisted of giving one group of women a breakfast high in unhealthy, saturated fats and another group a breakfast high in healthy, unsaturated fats. The women, average age of 53, took the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events questionnaire to determine if they were under stress from their experiences the previous day. During the study, the women’s blood was drawn several times, as researchers were looking for markers of inflammation.
What did they find? Well, those who ate the saturated fat meal had higher marks of inflammation than those who ate the unsaturated fat meal. The difference in inflammation marks, however, disappeared for the women who reported being under stress. Thus, eating a “bad fat” breakfast was just the same as eating a “good fat” breakfast for those who were stressed.
Overall, the study provides evidence that stress complicates the body’s processing of food and has the potential to wipe out the benefits that accompany a healthy meal. So, while you may be focused on your healthy diet, your stress has a different agenda.
Therefore, before you splurge on ice cream, these researchers are not advocating that you eat an unhealthy meal when you’re under a lot of stress. In fact, they suggest that you eat a diet rich in monounsaturated fats in order to give yourself a healthy starting point for when stress does begin to creep up on you.
Stress matters, and it isn’t something that you can afford to ignore. Managing your stress is just as important as eating healthy or exercising daily, as it can take a toll on your body. A few good practices to manage stress include getting good sleep, meditating, and setting aside time for activities you enjoy. Stress may be inevitable, but you are in control of how it can affect you.