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A steady stream of stress can negate the benefits of even the healthiest diet.

That’s what researchers at The Ohio State University concluded after a recent double-blind, randomized trial of 58 middle-age women. The results were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Participants were randomly given either a “healthy” breakfast (made with sunflower oil) or a less-healthy alternative (made with palm oil). On a different day, they ate the other breakfast fare. (For background on fat, go to “The Facts About Fats.”)

The day of each meal, the participants answered questions about stressors they had experienced the previous day. Thirty-one women cited one recent stressor at one of the visits; 21 cited a stressor before both visits, and six indicated no stressors prior to either visit.

Researchers drew blood from the women multiple times during each visit to measure two known markers of inflammation — C-reactive protein and serum amyloid A — as well as two cell-adhesion molecules that may predict increased likelihood of arterial plaque buildup.

After controlling for factors like age, abdominal fat, and physical activity, all four harmful blood markers were higher following the meal containing palm oil. For women experiencing stressful days, however, the difference in reduced inflammation levels from the sunflower-oil meal disappeared.

Further studies are necessary to determine how the other meal ingredients, such as refined carbs, may interact with stress to trigger inflammation, but these results suggest that silencing the stress in your life may be more important than we think.

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