High Stress Levels May Cancel Out Your Healthy Diet

If you are active and follow a healthy, balanced diet, you may think that you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself against the development of disease and chronic illness. Of course, these two lifestyle factors are incredibly important, but what about stress levels?

Between your career and family life, do you ever feel as though you’re completely overwhelmed? How often do you feel as though your stress levels are high? According to a new study, stressful events may cancel out the benefits of eating healthy fats, reducing your ability to maintain optimal positive health.

Stress May Cancel Out Healthy Fats

With so many processed foods available, for those who follow a nutrient-rich diet, it can be both time consuming and in some cases, expensive. With that being said, you cannot put a price on your health and for those who are actively aiming to eat better, they probably feel as though they’re doing their body a world of good.

For the most part, eating healthy will result in positive benefits. A balanced diet that provides your body with the nutrients it requires will result in a healthy weight, a reduced risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and much more — but, what if you found out that stress could be hindering your efforts, then what?

Based on a new study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, this is exactly what researchers found. It’s well known that both diet and stress can influence inflammation in the human body, as this relationship can be measured through blood samples. When chronic inflammation occurs, this is what leads to the development of arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.

Within this study, researchers examined 38 breast cancer survivors, as well as 20 other women. All of these participants visited Ohio State on two separate days and ate one of two meals. This study stemmed from previous research which focused on high-fat diets and depression among cancer survivors.

Within one meal, participants ate biscuits and gravy, which was high in saturated fat. The second meal consisted of nearly identical ingredients, however, it was made with monounsaturated sunflower oil instead. With an average age of 53, women also took a Daily Inventory of Stressful Events questionnaire.

This helped the researchers determine if they were under any stress. They also asked them about their experiences the previous day. A stressful event did not include minor irritations, but did include instances, such as helping a parent with dementia who was resistant, cleaning up paint that a child spilled all over the floor, etc.

Throughout the study, the women’s blood was drawn several times, as researchers were looking for key markers of inflammation, increasing the risk of artery plaque. Following the meal high in saturated fat, all four unhealthy markers were higher than the women who consumed the sunflower oil meal.

Interestingly, for the women who reported being under stress or experienced a stressful event the day prior, this difference disappeared. In comparison, those who consumed saturated fat, did not show any changes after a stressful event.  Meaning, the blood tests showcased findings that suggested eating a breakfast with ‘bad’ fat, was equal to eating a breakfast with ‘good’ fat when experiencing high stress.

Of course, this is not a reason to eat unhealthy when you’re under stress or feeling anxious. The type of inflammation that causes illnesses and disease to develop builds over time. In contrast, when you’re feeling stressed, it’s important to stick to your healthy eating habits, focusing more on reducing stress levels.

It was concluded that individuals should eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet each and every day, so that when they are exposed to stressful events, their body and health are in a better place to deal with increased inflammation. Positive health is all about balance — both mental and physical.

If you would like more information about stress and its effect, please visit The American Institute of Stress or CMHA.

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