New study shows stress can cancel benefits of healthy eating


Whether it’s trying to keep track of all the emails you haven’t replied to yet, juggling kids’ after-school activities, caring for aging parents or squeezing in a run before the weekend tailgate, the list of stressors is endless. Could all of your attempts to eat healthy be cancelled out by stress? That’s what a new study by researchers at The Ohio State University suggests. 

Stress is affecting more than just your mood. It’s changing how your body processes food.

The Study

Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry and psychology, and Martha Belury, a professor of human nutrition, found that when under stress, your body processes fat differently. 

In their study, the researchers gave one group of women a breakfast containing saturated fat (“bad fat”), and another group an identical breakfast containing monounsaturated sunflower oil (“good fat”). They also gave the groups a survey to determine their stress levels. 

After participants ate the breakfast, their blood was examined for the presence of substances that can lead to inflammation and plaque buildup, both of which can open the door for disease. Inflammation is especially important, as it has been identified as a contributing factor to heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Findings

The study’s first finding was what you would expect. In women who were not stressed, the ones who ate the meal with the “good” fat showed a lesser amount of these harmful substances than those who ate the meal with the “bad” fat. But for women who were stressed, the difference disappeared. Those who ate the meal with the “good fat” showed the same effects as those who ate the meal with the “bad” fat. 

Why bother?

At this point you may be asking, “So if my body won’t reap the benefits of the good fat, should I just eat the ice cream, cookies or doughnuts I’m really craving when I’m stressed?”

Definitely not.  As Kiecolt-Glaser and Belury expressed, it is important to remember that inflammation builds over time. The message here isn’t to eat whatever you want when you’re stressed, but rather to be aware that the choices you make each day contribute to your inflammation levels and your overall health. So instead of reaching for a doughnut or pastry every morning, reach for some fruit instead. This way, when your stress levels rise, you will be starting in a better place.

Key Takeaway

Remember to take some time to de-stress and choose to eat healthy foods when the unhealthy cravings strike. Your body will thank you later!