Stress may erase the health benefit 'good' fats

September 30, 2016 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Stress may erase the health benefit 'good' fats

The type of fat you eat matters, but a new study from Ohio State University suggests that the benefits of good fats vanish when stress enters the picture.

Unstressed women who ate a biscuits-and-gravy breakfast made mostly with saturated fat fared worse in blood tests looking for precursors to disease than those women who ate an identical breakfast made primarily with monounsaturated sunflower oil.

But when women in the study had a stressful event before the breakfast test, the hardships of the previous day appeared to erase any benefits linked to the healthy fat choice.

This study is the first to show that stress has the potential to cancel out benefits of choosing healthier fats.

Prior to the study, the researchers knew that both diet and stress can alter inflammation in the body. That's important because chronic inflammation is linked to many health problems including heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

But they wanted to know more about the interplay between stress, diet and inflammatory markers in the bloodstream.

Women were randomly assigned to one of the two breakfasts, which -- in addition to biscuits and gravy -- included eggs and turkey sausage. One was high in saturated fat from palm oil, the other higher in unsaturated fat from a sunflower oil high in oleic acid (the same type of fatty acid found in olive oil).

The researchers intentionally chose a high-calorie, high-fat meal to mimic a typical fast-food meal. Each breakfast contained 930 calories and 60 grams of fat, almost identical to the composition of a Big Mac and medium fries or a Burger King Double Whopper with cheese. The women were given 20 minutes to eat.

It’s known that a less-healthy meal is going to have adverse effects on inflammation, but the researchers wanted to look this type of meal made with different types of fat.

The women visited the university on two different days and ate either of the two meals. The 58 participants were, on average, 53 years old.

The women were asked about the previous day's experiences and the researchers used the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events questionnaire to determine if a participant was under stress.

Stressors included having to clean up paint a child spilled all over the floor and struggling to help a parent with dementia who was resisting help.

Thirty-one women had at least one recent stressor at one of the two visits; 21 had experienced stress before both visits and six of the women reported no significant stressful experiences prior to their visits.

Stress increased inflammation after eating healthy fats

The researchers measured two markers of inflammation -- C-reactive protein and serum amyloid A. They also evaluated two blood levels of a molecule that could predict a greater likelihood of plaque forming in the arteries.

All four unhealthy markers were higher following the saturated fat meal than the sunflower oil meal. The research team controlled for factors that could skew results such as blood levels before the meals, age difference, abdominal fat and physical activity.

In those women who had stressful days, the difference disappeared. Eating a breakfast with "bad fat" was just the same as eating one with "good fat."

Stressors raised levels of all four harmful blood markers in the sunflower oil group, but stress did not seem to budge the readings for those who ate saturated fat.

It's believed that reduced inflammation could be the cornerstone of the benefits of eating healthier foods such as the Mediterranean diet -- one that is high in oleic acid, usually from olive oil.

Stressors raised levels of all four harmful blood markers in the sunflower oil group, but stress did not seem to budge the readings for those who ate saturated fat.

Inflammation creeps up over time to contribute to disease. The message here, though, is not that you might as well eat whatever you want when you're stressed.

Rather, it should serve as a reminder make healthy choices every day so that when happens you're starting in a better place.

Source: Molecular Psychiatry, September 20, 2016.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.