Published:
October 6, 2016
Last Updated:
March 4, 2021

Is Stress Ruining Your Healthy Diet?

It’s previously been proven that stress can affect the food choices we make. In 2000, researchers found that when our cortisol levels go up, we reach for the sweet, fatty stuff. We also know that stress can promote inflammation in the body, which can lead to heart disease and certain autoimmune conditions.

But a more recent study shows that the physiological effects of stress alone may actually undo the benefits of a healthy diet.

For the study, the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center recruited 58 women, almost two-thirds of whom were breast cancer survivors, and offered them one of two meals on two different days. Both meals were comprised of the same items, but one was made with palm oil, a saturated fat, and the other with sunflower oil, a monounsaturated fat. The women were also asked to fill out a stress questionnaire on both visits.

Not surprisingly, when bloodwork was examined, the women who ate the saturated fat–heavy meal showed higher levels of two markers of inflammation and two markers of plaque-forming molecules than the women who ate the sunflower oil–based meal. But interestingly, the women who ate the unsaturated meal and had stressful events the day before had the same increase in levels of the four markers as the women who ate the saturated fat. 

The increase in inflammation seems to hit a ceiling because the women who both ate the saturated fat meal and faced stressful events did not have a larger increase in levels than the women who ate the saturated fat and were not stressed.

It’s more evidence that stress matters,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, lead author of the study, in a release. 

Co-author Martha Belury recommended that people eat healthier each day so that when stressors occur, “you’re in a better place,” the release also stated.

woman sitting outside with mug in front of plant

The results were published in  Molecular Psychiatry.

IIN guest speaker Dr. Andrew Weil has previously offered advice on following an anti-inflammatory diet to help the body fight back when suffering the effects of stress and depression, both of which cause inflammation. A Mediterranean diet is known to be anti-inflammatory as are the following foods:

  • Whole grains such as bulgur wheat and brown rice
  • Winter squashes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Nuts such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds
  • Avocadoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage
  • Green or oolong tea
  • Dark chocolate (with a minimum cocoa content of 70%)

Of course, monitoring your stress level is a crucial component of self-care (we call it primary food!) that is necessary in creating total health and happiness. Looking for tips on how to better manage stress? Click here for some breathing tips to help melt it away. 

How do you handle stress in your daily life? Share with us in the comments below!

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