Diabetes Forecast

Stress Counters Benefits of a Healthy Diet

Photo Credit: Marco Meyer/BigStock

What to Know

A healthy diet can help protect against heart disease, a major risk factor for people with diabetes. But eating well may not be enough. To avoid harming your heart, you also need to take care of your mental health. Stress and depression, for example, can increase inflammation, which in turn can raise your blood pressure and your risk of heart attack and stroke. In this study, researchers wanted to learn whether stress could offset the benefits of healthy eating.

The Study

Researchers recruited 58 women who did not have diabetes and whose average age was 53. The women answered questions about their previous day’s level of stress and their history of depression. The next day, they each ate a meal. One to four weeks later, they returned for more questions and another meal. The meals, which consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits, and gravy, were identical except for one ingredient: One meal was prepared with saturated fat, the other with sunflower oil, a healthier unsaturated fat. The participants had a blood test following each meal.

The Results

The saturated fat meals, as expected, boosted the women’s levels of inflammation. The meals prepared with unsaturated fat showed more interesting results. Unstressed women saw a drop in inflammation compared with their levels following the meal prepared with less-healthy fat. But the women who were stressed saw no such reduction in inflammation. The healthier meal, the study showed, offered no benefits to the stressed participants.


Both stress and depression boost the risk for chronic health problems, but they also appear to reduce the health benefits of eating well. In other words, if stress and depression are not effectively treated, then the advantages of a healthy diet may be thwarted.

Depression, Daily Stressors and Inflammatory Responses to High-Fat Meals: When Stress Overrides Healthier Food Choices.” JK Kiecolt-Glaser, CP Fagundes, R Andridge, J Peng, WB Malarkey, D Habash, and MA Belury. Molecular Psychiatry, 2016 September

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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