Love salmon and avocados? You might not reap the benefits of those thoughtful healthy dinners if you come home anxious or stressed, a new study has found. Your stress levels may interfere with how you metabolize foods.
A study from Ohio State University reveals that stress negates the benefits of eating some healthy fats.
The study: Fifty-eight women with an average age of 53 were served biscuits and gravy for breakfast during two visits to the OSU lab. During one visit, the women consumed biscuits with traditional gravy and during the second, they had biscuits in gravy prepared with monosaturated sunflower seed oil, a source of oleic acid, a healthy fat. The study was a double-blind randomized trial.
Researchers used a structured questionnaire to evaluate which women were depressed or under stress. They also took blood samples to look for biomarkers of inflammation before and after each meal.
"They're not life-shattering events, but they're not of the hangnail variety either," study lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University, told OSU News. Stressors related to life events, like caring for a parent with dementia, might cause stress, OSU News noted.
The result: Researchers found that stress made the women metabolize the healthy and unhealthy breakfasts in the same way. Women who were stressed had similar biomarkers for inflammation after they ate the healthy breakfast and the less healthy breakfast.
For women who weren't stressed, the less healthy breakfast caused more inflammation than the breakfast made with sunflower seed oil.
Why is inflammation worrisome? Chronic inflammation has been linked to a slew of diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, researchers noted in the study.
"It's more evidence that stress matters," Kiecolt-Glaser told OSU News. Previous research shows that stress causes people to overeat because it shuts down the hormones that regulate appetite, Harvard Medical School reported. Stress may also lead people to crave sugar and carbohydrates, or "comfort foods" that ease stress in the brain.
Yup, your brain and your emotions are actively working against your health, even when you resist the temptation to drown your sorrows in a pint of ice cream and decide to make a dinner with healthy fats. Other sources of monosaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, peanut butter and many nuts, the American Heart Association noted.
"We have known for years that psychological factors are very influential on health," Martha Belury, a study co-author, said in an email, noting her team was not surprised to find that participants' psychological state could influence metabolism. Case in point: High-stress lives are associated with higher rates of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, Belury said.
In light of the current study, should we just eat whatever we want when we're stressed? Not so fast, researchers say. Belury told OSU News that the study should serve as motivation for people to eat healthier all the time so they're in a better starting place when stress hits.
Feeling overwhelmed? Practicing meditation, walking and listening to music are science-backed ways to relieve stress, the Huffington Post reported. Watching funny YouTube videos can also help cool your jets — cue up your favorites next time you feel stress creeping into your life and let the giggles lead you to a more relaxed state of mind.
As for what to eat? Check out this list of 11 foods that'll help you chill.