Does Stress Erase the Benefits of Healthy Eating?

By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN

I get stressed out just like the rest of us. When I start to feel overwhelmed or upset, I remind myself that a moment away from my computer can do wonders. My go-to is usually a walk to the kitchen for a warm, soothing cup of tea.

Now new preliminary research suggests that stress may diminish some of the health benefits of healthy eating. In a study in Molecular Psychiatry, scientists studied 58 healthy women with an average age of 53 and a history of major depressive disorder; 72 percent of the women were breast cancer survivors. Each woman was given a breakfast of biscuits and gravy with eggs and turkey sausage on two separate occasions — one meal was prepared in palm oil (high in saturated fat), and the other was made in oleic sunflower oil (high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids).

When women reported no stressors from the previous day during an interview with researchers, their inflammation markers were found to be higher after eating the meal prepared with high-saturated-fat palm oil, versus after having the meal prepared with sunflower oil. But here’s where the research gets interesting: When women ate the sunflower oil meal and noted previous day’s stress, their markers were similar to the markers they had after eating the high-saturated-fat meal. Because the women in the study had a history of depression and more than half were breast cancer survivors, more research needs to be conducted to determine whether the findings may be applied to the general population.

The fact is we all have stress in our lives. But there are actions we can take to help decrease that stress. So try these ideas next time you feel frazzled:

  • Drink something warm. As I mentioned, my go-to soother is a cup of tea. (Bonus: It has 0 SmartPoints® values.) My current favorite is peppermint, and I also love my licorice-cinnamon tea; the chrysanthemum tea pictured here was a treat I found on vacation in Portland, Oregon. Your preference might be a cup of decaf coffee or even a glass of hot water with lemon.
  • Take a walk. Get away from the problem and get a breather. Depending on how much time you have, walk around the office or go outside for some sunshine and exercise.
  • Touch base with a friend. I’ll often send an e-mail to a friend or make a phone call when I’m feeling like I need to talk a problem through. Even if I think I don’t have time for this, I always find the calming benefits are worth it.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What are your best tips for de-stressing? Share them with me on Connect @amy.gorin!

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