It’s 2:00 pm and you’ve been going nonstop since your own workout at 5:30 this morning. You still have two clients to go and a big presentation to get ready for the Chamber of Commerce tomorrow. You are stressed out and can feel the cortisol bludgeoning your system.
Stop, take a deep, cleansing breath—and grab a modest handful of . . . walnuts?
Yes, walnuts! A team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) recently demonstrated that eating a diet rich in walnuts or walnut oil may equip your body better to deal with the physical effects of stress.
Reported in the December issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the Penn State study examined 20 healthy adults with elevated “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels to see what effect the consumption of walnuts and walnut oil might have. They found that including walnuts and walnut oil in the diet lowered both resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory (subjects either submerged a foot in cold water or gave a speech). Adding flax as well as walnuts and walnut oil had similarly beneficial effects. This study follows other research that has shown omega-3 fatty acids—such as the alpha-linolenic acid found in walnuts and flax seeds—can reduce bad cholesterol.
Sheila G. West, PhD, associate professor of biobehavioral health and nutritional sciences at Penn State and the study’s lead author, offered these three takeaways from the research for fitness professionals to consider and share with clients:
1. “If you are going to eat a high-calorie food on a regular basis, it should be one with a lot of nutrients. Walnuts fit that requirement because they are one of the few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids and they contain high concentrations of antioxidants.” Note West’s emphasis on “high-calorie food” and inform clients that walnuts are energy dense at about 200 calories for a scant quarter cup. Calories in—even healthy calories—are calories that need to be considered in the overall plan for the day (for more information on the FDA’s recommendation about daily nut consumption go to www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/LabelClaims/QualifiedHealthClaims/ucm073992.htm#walnuts).
2. “Walnuts reduced the body’s biological response to stress, but the diets did not affect mood or ‘distress.’ They aren’t a ‘mood food,’ at least in our study.”
3. “The diets containing walnuts and walnut oil significantly reduced blood pressure at rest and during stress. Adding flax to the walnut diet also reduced inflammation.” (The flax-plus-walnuts diet lowered C-reactive protein, indicating an anti-inflammatory effect, the research showed). West added that future research “should examine whether this improves recovery from exercise.”
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