Stress Can Negate the Benefits of a Healthy Diet


By Brianna Sachs

It’s been shown that being under too much stress can negatively affect our bodies. Stress can result in not being able to sleep, persistent headaches and hair loss, among other negative consequences.

Now, a new study suggests that being under stress coupled with a high calorie diet rich in healthy fats, could also result in burning fewer calories. This study is the first of its kind to show that stress can in fact negate the advantages of eating a healthy diet.

The study, conducted at The Ohio State University, monitored two groups of women who ate an identical breakfast comprised of biscuits, gravy, eggs and turkey sausage. The only difference was that one group’s meal was made with palm oil, a saturated fat, while the second group’s meal was prepared with monounsaturated sunflower oil, which is considered a “healthy” fat.

Participants who ate the breakfast made with the “unhealthy” palm oil underwent blood tests that tested for precursors to disease. The study found that those who had the blood test after eating the breakfast rich in saturated fat yielded worse results than those who consumed the breakfast made with sunflower oil.

The study then tested what happened to women eating the healthy breakfast after having gone through a stressful event the day before. After eating the breakfast, these women burned fewer calories throughout the day. Additionally, their blood tests came back with almost identical similarities to the women eating the breakfast with the bad fats.

It’s more evidence that stress matters,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, the study’s lead author and professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University.

It’s important to note that the researchers conducting the study did not know which women were eating which meals. They were randomly assigned a group to be a part of, either the saturated breakfast or the monounsaturated.

The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, only asserts that those that consume either high calorie or high fat diets burn fewer calories when stressed. It did not test for the effect of stress on those who eat a stable and balanced diet.

Prior to the study, Kiecolt-Glaser and her fellow researchers knew that both diet and stress could alter inflammation in the body and generate a variety of conditions including heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. But they wanted to further their knowledge about the interplay between stress, diet and inflammatory markers they can measure in the bloodstream.

The study aims to educate those on the importance on living a healthy lifestyle surrounded by a healthful diet. Martha Belury, co-author of the study and professor of human nutrition at Ohio State, said it could serve as a strong reminder to select the healthier options when multiple choices are presented to you, so that when stress gets in your way you’re already starting in a better place.

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