Stress can wipe away health benefits of eating healthy fats, says study

For women, stress can erase the benefits of a healthful diet, a new study suggests. (Getty Images/Blend Images RM)
For women, stress can erase the benefits of a healthful diet, a new study suggests. (Getty Images/Blend Images RM)

Yes, we know there’s a difference between good fats and bad fats. But now investigators are saying that even when you opt for the healthy fats, a stressful day can wipe away all of their health benefits.

Researchers from Ohio State University recruited 58 women (38 of them were breast cancer survivors) who were asked to consume one of two breakfasts on two different mornings. The women were served eggs and turkey sausage, along with biscuits and gravy. One breakfast was high in less-healthy saturated fat from palm oil, while the other was high in healthy unsaturated fat from a type of sunflower oil that’s rich in oleic acid.

The study subjects were then asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their stress levels based on their previous day’s experiences. Blood samples were also taken multiple times during their visits, and study authors took note of four markers: two that are connected with inflammation (C-reactive protein and serum amyloid A) and two that can predict the likelihood of plaque forming in the arteries.

The results: As expected, all four harmful markers were higher in the women who consumed the saturated fat meal rather than the sunflower oil meal. However, for women who ate the more healthful meal and also reported feeling stressed, the benefit had disappeared.

In other words, when you’re stressed out, “eating a breakfast with ‘bad fat’ was just the same as eating one with ‘good fat,’” as stated in the press release.

“This provides another major reason why combating stress and implementing stress-reducing behaviors, such as regular exercise and deep breathing, are vital to improving health,” Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies, tells Yahoo Beauty.

While Palinski-Wade finds the results “very interesting,” she also thinks the topic could use additional research.

“Could the food choices on the stressful previous day have also impacted the blood markers?” questions Palinski-Wade. “Perhaps the individuals made less healthy food choices at lunch or dinner on the stressful days, which played a role in the next day’s blood work.”

Lori Zanini, RD, author of the upcoming book Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook, concurs. “This study does serve as a reminder that a healthy lifestyle is indeed multifactorial and that a holistic approach is important,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “[However], this study has quite a small sample size and short study duration, so it would be challenging to draw too many conclusions that should be provided to educate others.”

Zanini adds that stress can certainly make an impact on inflammatory markers, “but to say that it completely negates a healthy diet would be inaccurate,” she continues. “We know that the sum of our diet — not just one meal, like this study measured — is more important in promoting overall health.”

Palinski-Wade agrees and stresses that focusing on healthy dietary choices — especially when you’re stressed out and more likely to be craving comfort foods — is still important.

“Although this may not have an immediate benefit, as shown in this research, nutrients — such as vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids — have been shown to reduce circulating stress hormones, which may offer protective benefits.”

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