By Jonathan Springston, Associate Managing Editor, AHC Media

A recently published study contains seemingly counterintuitive data about the relationship between a healthy diet and the effects of stress on the human body.

Researchers asked 58 women to explain the types of stress they experience on a daily basis. Study participants consumed two different types of meals, one high in saturated fat (which is linked to a variety of health problems) and one rich in plant-based oil (which resembles the Mediterranean diet and is associated with positive health outcomes), on different days.

Stress triggers included common, non-life-threatening events such as rushing to pick up children from school. Investigators monitored a number of inflammation markers in the body, including C-reactive protein, because higher inflammation over time has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

To no one’s surprise, if a study participant was not stressed and consumed a healthy meal, inflammatory responses were lower than if a participant consumed a fatty meal. However, if a woman experienced stress and consumed a healthy meal that day, researchers noted higher inflammatory responses, almost as if the woman actually had consumed a meal high in saturated fat.

The sample size was small and more studies featuring many more participants ingesting even more types of meals conducted over longer periods may be necessary to draw definitive conclusions. Still, these researchers have added another reason why Americans must try to reduce their stress levels, especially if stress possibly cancels out one’s completely reasonable efforts to eat healthier meals.

Researchers recommend building friendships with others as well as engaging in mindfulness meditation and yoga to reduce stress. For more on alternative therapies, better nutrition, and how to reduce stress, be sure to check out Integrative Medicine Alert.