In a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, the connection between stress, dietary choices, and cardiovascular health has taken center stage. The findings reveal that consuming fatty foods during or before a stressful event can significantly worsen the impact on the brain, heart, and overall stress recovery process.
Fatty Foods Consumption And Cardiovascular Health
The study, led by researcher Rosalind Baynham, involved young and healthy adults who were given two butter croissants as breakfast before being subjected to a mental math task designed to simulate everyday stress at work or home.
The results were surprising, indicating that the consumption of fatty foods under stress reduced cardiovascular function by 1.7%. Importantly, this reduction persisted for an extended period, with the scientists detecting decreased artery elasticity up to 90 minutes after the stressful event.
Baynham explained, “When we get stressed, different things happen in the body, our heart rate and blood pressure go up, our blood vessels dilate and blood flow to the brain increases. We also know that the elasticity of our blood vessels – which is a measure of vascular function – declines following mental stress.”
Notably, a 1% reduction in cardiovascular function has been linked to a 13% increase in the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases, highlighting the significance of this study’s findings.
The impact of high-fat foods extended beyond cardiovascular function, affecting the flow of oxygen to the brain’s pre-frontal cortex by 39% during stress compared to a low-fat meal. Additionally, participants reported a negative impact on mood both during and after the stress episode when consuming fatty foods.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, suggests that opting for low-fat food and drinks has a less detrimental effect on people’s recovery from stress. After consuming a low-fat meal, stress still led to a 1.2% decrease in cardiovascular functioning, but this decline returned to normal within 90 minutes after the stressful event.
Building on previous research by the same team, which highlighted the preventive effects of healthier food rich in polyphenols, such as cocoa, berries, grapes, apples, and other fruits and vegetables, the current study reinforces the importance of dietary choices in stress management.
Foods known to reduce the impact of stress on the body include complex carbs like whole-grain breads and cereals, omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish like salmon and tuna, and nuts such as almonds and pistachios. Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in polyphenols, emerge as a heart-healthy alternative for stress-induced eating.
Professor Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Birmingham, stressed the significance of these findings, particularly for individuals in high-stress jobs and those at risk of cardiovascular disease.
“We all deal with stress all the time, but especially for those of us in high-stress jobs and at risk of cardiovascular disease, these findings should be taken seriously,” said van Zanten. The study focused on healthy 18 to 30-year-olds, indicating that even in this age group, the impact of fatty foods on stress recovery was considerable.
In conclusion, the study emphasizes the intricate relationship between dietary choices, stress, and cardiovascular health. The impact of stress-eating on the body’s recovery process highlights the need for individuals, particularly those with increased cardiovascular risks, to be mindful of their food choices during stressful times.
By opting for heart-healthy alternatives, individuals can better support their overall well-being and stress resilience.