CAT | Heart Health
Have you ever stopped for a cheeseburger on your way home from a stressful day at work? Or reached for a bag of greasy chips when the pressure was just too much? It turns out your waistline may have suffered the consequences—particularly if you’re a woman.
A new study out of Ohio State University reveals that women who load up on high-fat, high-calorie foods when stress levels are high actually burn fewer calories and increase their risk of weight gain over time. From what scientists could tell, stressful events caused a spike in insulin, which in turn caused the women to store more fat instead of using it as fuel.
The study involved nearly 60 middle-aged women, and each was questioned about her individual stress level before consuming a meal consisting of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. The participants were then monitored for seven hours after the meal, and it was determined that the women who reported being stressed burned 104 fewer calories than those who weren’t—a difference that could result in almost 11 extra pounds a year, said researchers.
And when stressful events were combined with existing depression? Researchers found that blood triglyceride levels jumped even higher, putting the women at a greater risk for heart disease. Interestingly, the study results were the same in women who received a meal containing saturated fat and those who consumed a “healthier” version with high-oleic sunflower oil.
Said Ohio State nutritionist and study co-author Martha Belury, “We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy rather than going to a very convenient but high-fat choice.”
Eating right is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your body, but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good for you and what’s not—especially when it comes to a little thing called fats. The most important thing to know here is that not all fats are bad, as many of us have been led to believe. There are, in fact, healthy fats like the Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (along with some nuts, seeds and veggies), but on the same note there are also some not-so-healthy fats—the most notorious of which are trans fats.
Why are Trans Fats so Bad?
Trans fats are essentially unsaturated oils that have been treated with hydrogen so that the oil becomes solid and more stable at room temperature. Many margarines, shortenings, fried foods and processed foods (think baked goods, pizza dough, cookies, crackers and snack foods) are high in trans fats, and studies have shown that these unhealthy fats can wreak havoc on the body. According to the American Heart Association,
“Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” i
Don’t Trust the Label
Did you know that foods labeled “no trans fat” can legally contain a certain amount of trans fats? It’s true. Manufacturers are allowed to round down anything less than 0.5 g of trans fat—something to keep in mind when you think you’re eating a trans fat-free food. (You could actually be consuming more of these unhealthy fats than you think.) Though new label changes may be on the horizon, to be on the safe side always check your food labels and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils.
3 Quick Tips for Eating Fats
- Eat more monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) and Omega-3 fats. These unsaturated fats contribute to the fluidity of cell membranes, as well as to the regulation of inflammatory response—all health-promoting actions.
- Be sure to eat saturated fats in moderation. Even better, obtain your saturated fats from coconut oil, a medium-chain saturated fat considered a healthy saturated fat due to its shorter chain length and rapid metabolism.
- Eat fats along with veggies. A recent study found that the carotenoid nutrients (beta carotene is a carotenoid) found in salads were best absorbed when eaten in combination with monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated or even polyunsaturated fats. If you’ve been passing on the salad dressing because you want to cut down on fat, you’re better off adding fat—opt for a vinaigrette made with olive oil.
And always remember that fat is a nutrient—not the enemy! Just be sure to choose the right fats.