Contrary to popular belief, foods high in fat, which we sometimes call comfort foods, are actually bad for combating stress. A new study reveals that they could on the contrary alter the body’s response to daily stress. Explanations.
A public health priority, mental health has been undermined by the numerous global crises that have occurred over the past several years. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in eight people in the world suffered from a mental disorder in 2019, before the pandemic, knowing that the health crisis would have greatly contributed to their increase. An observation which shows the importance of taking action, from prevention to treatment, to reverse the phenomenon. A study from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom today sheds new light on how our food choices can influence our ability to manage stress, with surprising results that could help populations better manage these daily episodes.
Each individual reacts differently to stress, particularly in terms of diet. While some are unable to eat anything, others turn primarily to comfort foods, often high in fat. According to the authors of this study, eating fatty foods before facing an episode of stress can reduce oxygenation to the brain and impair vascular function. This reduction in vascular function, measured at 1.74% during this research, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Citing previous studies, the researchers indicate that a 1% drop in vascular function would be associated with a 13% increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fatty foods prevent the body from responding to stress in the best possible way.
The unexpected impact of fatty foods on stress
To achieve these results, the scientists looked at a group of healthy young adults. The idea was to give them fatty foods, in this case two butter croissants for breakfast, before subjecting them to an episode of stress, namely carrying out mental calculations, to be done more and more quickly, for eight minutes, alerting them to wrong answers. All while being visualized on a screen. Published in the journals Frontiers in Nutrition and Nutrients, the results of this work show that instead of having a positive effect, so-called comfort foods have on the contrary altered the body’s response to daily stress.
“We all deal with stress all the time, but these findings should be taken seriously, especially for those of us who work in high-stress jobs and are at risk for cardiovascular disease. This research can help us make decisions that reduce risks rather than making them worse“, explains Professor Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten of the University of Birmingham, in a press release. And adds: “We looked at healthy young people for this study and seeing such a difference in how their bodies recover from stress when they eat fatty foods is nothing short of astonishing. For people who are already at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the consequences could be even more serious“.
Among the main lessons of the study, the researchers observed a drop in cerebral oxygenation in the prefrontal cortex following the consumption of fatty foods, compared to a low-fat meal, but also a negative impact on the mood, and a reduction in arterial elasticity, a measure of vascular function, up to 90 minutes after the end of the stress episode. Conversely, the consumption of low-fat foods was associated with better recovery in terms of stress, and a return to normal of the impact of this stress on vascular function 90 minutes after the end of the stressful event. And certain foods could even prevent this alteration of vascular function, the researchers mentioning in particular those rich in polyphenols (berries, apples, grapes, green leafy vegetables, cocoa).
NO to diets, YES to WW!
Berries instead of cookies
“The world is an incredibly stressful place right now, and even without external factors like war or a cost of living crisis, stress is something we all have to deal with. So next time you’re in a big meeting or job interview, maybe try to resist the cookies and opt for berries instead. You may feel more relaxed and be able to handle stress a little better“, advises Rosalind Baynham, main author of this work.