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Stress and Snacks: How Fatty Foods Hinder Recovery
We all deal with stress, and during tense times it’s common to reach for comforting snacks like ice cream, pizza or potato chips. But new research suggests fatty foods can backfire – actually prolonging the body’s negative responses to stress instead of alleviating them.

A study from the University of Birmingham demonstrates that consuming high-fat meals before a stressful event reduces vascular function, brain oxygenation and mood compared to low-fat meals. The effects persist even after the stress ends, impairing overall recovery.
High-Fat Foods Hinder Rebounding from Stress

In the research, participants ate either high-fat or low-fat breakfasts. The high-fat meal provided 56.5 grams of fat from two butter croissants. An hour later, they completed an 8-minute mental math test designed to raise stress levels.

The scientists tracked vascular function, brain oxygenation, blood pressure and other markers at baseline, during the stressor and afterwards.

Consuming the high-fat meal before stress:

  • Decreased vascular function by 1.74%, raising heart disease risks
  • Lowered oxygen supply to the prefrontal cortex region of the brain by 39%
  • Negatively impacted mood

Importantly, vascular function remained impaired 90 minutes after the stressful episode ended in the high-fat group only.

Healthier Approaches to Managing Stress
While comfort foods hold appeal when we feel overwhelmed, lead researcher Rosalind Baynham explains healthier alternatives exist:

“By consuming low-fat food and drinks people’s recovery from stress is less affected. After eating a low-fat meal, stress still had a negative effect on vascular function, but this decline returned to normal 90 minutes after the stressful event.”

Additional research by the team reveals polyphenol-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and cocoa can prevent post-stress vascular dysfunction altogether.
Real-World Impacts on Health
Study co-author Professor Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten notes these effects have serious implications since stress is ubiquitous today, especially for high-risk cardiovascular groups:

“For people who already have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the impacts could be even more serious… Especially for those of us in high-stress jobs and at risk of cardiovascular disease, these findings should be taken seriously.”

The research reaffirms when stressed, people often fall back on convenient but unhealthy eating habits, trying to self-soothe. But we may unconsciously exacerbate physical and emotional stress responses by doing so.
Key Takeaways

The scientists emphasize when facing stressful situations:

  • Seek healthier low-fat snacks like fruit and avoid fatty indulgences
  • Incorporate polyphenol-rich foods to protect blood vessels
  • Understand ramifications of food choices to mitigate stress rather than compound it

While more research is warranted, the study delivers an important reminder of interplay between diet, stress and health. By optimizing nutrition during tense times, we can support overall wellbeing rather than inadvertently sabotaging the body and mind’s ability to rebound.

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© 2023, Brownricebandit LLC. All rights reserved.

© 2023, Brownricebandit LLC. All rights reserved.