A Good Diet May Be No Match for Stress

February 28, 2017 Victoria Leigh, DO


You take great care to eat a healthy diet. But do you take the same care to handle your stress from a bad day? If you don't, that green juice you had today might as well be a burger with fries.

A recent study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry suggests that stress has an effect on how your body processes the food you eat. "Stress takes a toll on the body--it raises blood sugar levels and lowers the body's resistance to inflammation, which can lead to increased risk of heart problems, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases," says Victoria Leigh, DO, a board-certified internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. Researchers aren't sure exactly why, but apparently that stress response is so powerful that a healthy diet can't override it.

In the study, women who ate a breakfast with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and didn't experience any stress the day before had good blood test results, compared to women who ate a similar breakfast made up of saturated fats. But factor in stress, and the women who ate the heart-healthy breakfast didn't see that positive correlation in their blood work--the benefits of the heart-healthy food disappeared, researchers said.

"If you're not managing stress in your life, you are missing a key component of overall health and wellness," Dr. Leigh says. "It should be on par with diet and exercise when it comes to taking care of yourself."

Dr. Leigh adds that there are some simple ways to make stress management part of your everyday routine.

  • Develop a coping mechanism. Hobbies, breathing techniques and exercises that emphasize relaxation can all help when you find yourself in a stressful situation. For more on these ideas, click here.
  • Take advantage of the tools that are out there. We tend to be a stressed-out society as a whole, and in response, several products have been introduced to the marketplace to help people chill out. It can be as old school as a coloring book for adults or as cutting-edge as a meditation app.
  • Curb work stress as much as possible. If your job is a source of constant aggravation, it can lead to chronic stress. Are there ways to do the job better, or is it time to look for something else? Take the time to assess how healthy your job is and how you can better cope with its stress. For more workplace-related stress tips, click here.
  • Take care of yourself. Taking time to meet your own needs may be considered pampering, but look at it instead as a bit of necessary self-care.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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