If you just had a stressful day, starting the next one off with avocado toast and a whole milk latte might not be any more healthful than a greasy bacon, egg, and cheese. According to a small new study from Ohio State University, stress might counteract the benefits of so-called “healthy fats.”
The small, double-blind study, which appears in Molecular Psychiatry, set out to examine the relationship between stress, diet and inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers gave 58 women a high-calorie breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, and turkey sausage on two separate research days. Participants received a meal cooked with saturated fat—found in meats and butter—on one visit, and then the meal cooked with monounsaturated fats—found in nuts and high-fat fruits (in this study, they used sunflower oil)—on the other.
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Before eating, researchers talked to the women about their previous day and noted if they had a stressful experiences, such as cleaning up after a child’s large mess or helping a disabled parent. Blood samples were taken before and after eating, and then tested for certain inflammatory markers. Results were controlled for blood levels, age difference, abdominal fat, and physical activity.
The researchers found that, as suspected, the inflammation levels in the women who ate the saturated fat meal were higher than those who ate the meal cooked with sunflower oil. But, surprisingly, for the women who had stressful days, the fat composition did not matter. The breakfast with the “good” fats raised the unhealthy markers just like the bad fats.
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“It’s more evidence that stress matters,” Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, lead author of the study, said in a statement. The findings are not, however, a free pass to chow down on whatever you want when you're having a bad day. Co-author Martha Belury, a professor in human nutrition, says that instead people should aim to eat healthy every day so they're starting in a better place when stress creeps in.
Not sure how to separate bouts of extreme stress from, well, just everyday life? Here, six common symptoms of stress (plus how to treat them).