We tend to think that when we make good choices about the foods we eat, good things are bound to follow, and generally that theory holds true. That is, until we get stressed out—and then all bets may be off.
Researchers from Ohio State University asked 58 women to take part in a study exploring the relationship between diet, everyday stress and health. In addition to answering questions about the types of stress they were experiencing, participants were given two specific meals to eat, each on a different day: one high in saturated fat and one made with a healthier, plant-based fat. They were then monitored for certain health markers linked to the body’s inflammatory response.
As expected, the women who reported no stress had lower inflammation levels after eating the healthier meal compared to when they ate the meal high in saturated fat, but the surprise came when they tested the women who were experiencing stress. “If a woman was stressed on a day when she got the healthy meal, she looked like she was eating the saturated fat meal in terms of her [inflammation] responses,” said study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser.
So, it seems having a stressful day may override the benefits of healthy eating, since stress boosts inflammation levels either way. Because underlying inflammation has been linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, the researchers recommend taking steps to help manage daily stress.