Stress Can Thwart a Healthful Diet

A casual reading of consumer health advice provides a mountain of tips about “stress-busting” diets. Health.com, for instance, offers up “12 superfoods for stress relief.” But a new study suggests that we might have this concept reversed. In a randomized controlled trial, investigators observed that stressors might blunt the benefits of a healthful meal.

The researchers randomized their subjects between identical meals, varying only the fat content of the meals. Compared to a meal with more saturated fats, the meal with more high oleic sunflower oil produced less systemic inflammation and fewer signals of cardiovascular disease risk. But those benefits were wiped out in subjects reporting significant stressors on the day before the test meal.

In other words, stress seemed to cancel out the benefits of an otherwise healthful meal. Lead author Janice Kiecolt­-Glaser explained:

The surprise here is that stress made the healthier ­fat meal look like the saturated fat meal. Stress is doing things with the metabolism that we really didn’t know about before.

Maybe expecting healthful diets to serve as an antidote for daily stressors is precisely backwards. Perhaps addressing those stressors directly would be a smarter strategy.

Click here for the study. Click here for more from the New York Times and here for more from NPR.

Burnout! Photograph © Dennis Skley / flickr

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October 3, 2016