Your stress is doing more harm than your diet is doing good. A recent study published in Nature makes the claim that stress can actually override healthy food choices. Yes, that means the chronic stress in your lifestyle has the potential to be far more damaging than that (large) piece of cake you had this weekend.
In the published study, 58 women were given a survey to determine their recent stress levels. Then, on separate days, they were given either a meal very high in saturated fat or a meal very high in plant fats (sunflower seed oil). When women were not stressed the day prior, only those who consumed the saturated fat exhibited increased inflammation markers. However, when women were stressed, both meals were associated with significantly increased inflammation markers, namely C-reactive protein. So, the study seems to suggest that the inflammatory action of chronic stress overrides the benefits of healthier dietary choices.
Whether or not you agree with the study’s assumptions (that saturated fats are unanimously unhealthy and plant-based oils are unanimously healthful), this study does make one startling point: stress has an incredibly powerful inflammatory response in our bodies. So powerful that it may actually override a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet.
However, since neither of the meals consumed in the study were extravagantly ‘healthy,’ it would be interesting to see the study conducted with a meal loaded with vibrant, rainbow-colored produce in place of the plant oil meal to see if it would yield different results. It seems logical that the benefits of a sub-par, extremely high fat meal (60 grams), plant-based or not, cannot provide enough anti-inflammatory support to combat the effects of stress. However, with the potent anti-inflammatory effect of green plants, would stress still have such a devastatingly inflammatory effect? It would make an interesting study also to differentiate inflammatory saturated fats and anti-inflammatory saturated fats, rather than demonizing all saturated fats as harbingers of disease.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that no matter what your diet may be, stress management needs to be included in your lifestyle. Stress is a powerful and underestimated force in our lives. Find mindful practices such as yoga, exercise, social support, meditation and journaling to keep yourself mindful and balanced. And remember, moderation is the key with everything. Stress is an invisible danger, so we all should do our best to keep it in check.
This brings us to an interesting discussion. When you cheat on your diet and eat something ‘bad,’ and you notice the mental and physical mal-effects the next day, would you feel such unpleasant symptoms if you weren’t so stressed and guilt-ridden about eating something ‘bad’? Could a lot of the difficulties we experience in diet struggles be linked to the inflammatory and mentally-impeding effects of stress? I’d wager that stress plays a deeper role in our ailments than we have yet realized.