Healthy snack food cuts blood pressure in just 6 weeks

Last month, researchers found that eating one type of snack food for six weeks could lower your blood pressure. Plus, this kind of snacking could even improve your blood pressure when you’re under stress. And that’s important, because if you have a high-octane lifestyle, you run a greater risk of developing heart disease.

But can eating one type of food really make a difference? That’s what researchers from Penn State recently set out to discover.

For the study, they recruited 22 healthy adults with elevated LDL and asked them to follow three different dietary programs. The researchers provided all the meals and snacks and closely monitored the participants’ progress.

For the first six weeks, participants ate a "typical" American diet. It was high in fat and carbs, a few fruits and vegetables thrown in here and there, no nuts, and plenty of processed foods.

For the second six weeks, participants again followed a "typical" American diet with two exceptions. They ate a handful of walnuts instead of another unhealthy snack. They also replaced some of the "bad" fat in their diet with one tablespoon of walnut oil. Their overall caloric and fat intake did not change.

For the last six weeks, participants continued to follow a "typical" American diet. But this time researchers included a serving of walnuts, walnut oil, and 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil each day.

To see what kind of affect these dietary changes had on the body, the participants took a series of stress tests…

Walnuts improve your body’s response to stress

At the end of each six-week period, the volunteers took two stress tests. The first test gauged the participants’ reaction to mental stress. Researchers assigned each volunteer a random topic. The volunteers each got two minutes to develop a presentation based on the topic. Then, they had to deliver a three- minute speech on camera. Then, at the end of the presentation, researchers took the participants’ blood pressure.

The second test gauged the participants’ response to physical stress. For this test, they dunked one foot into a bucket of ice-cold water. Again, the researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure to see how their bodies responded to the stress.

Overall, researchers discovered three things. First off, eating walnuts lowered the participants’ resting blood pressure by two to three points.

Secondly, eating walnuts improved blood pressure scores during both types of stress tests. In fact, researchers found that participants significantly lowered their average diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) in both sets of stress tests when they followed the walnut diets.

Thirdly, the researchers found that adding flax seed oil to the mix didn’t further reduce the participants’ blood pressure. However, adding flax seed did have some other very important benefits.

In fact, during the flax seed oil phase, some of the participants underwent a vascular ultrasound. The results showed that eating flax seed oil (in addition to walnuts) improved the participants’ arterial dilation. The walnuts plus flax seed diet also lowered the participants’ levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of heart health.

When your stomach grumbles, grab a handful of walnuts

Walnuts are one of the best foods to snack on when you’re stressed. They are rich in fiber and antioxidants. Plus, walnuts and flax seeds both contain alpha linolenic acid, a special kind of omega-3 fatty acid that promotes cardiovascular health. In fact, in another recent study men and women who ate ALA each day reduced their blood pressure by up to six percent. And if you’ve got high blood pressure, that’s not too shabby. It may be enough to get off your blood pressure medicine!

So make one small, positive change in your life today. Substitute a serving of walnuts for one of your snacks each day. Ounce-for-ounce, they’re much more filling than just about any other snack. Plus, they may help you stay calm and collected through even the craziest day. Just make sure they’re fresh. Nuts can go rancid very quickly.

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Dr. Allan Spreen

Dr. Allan Spreen

Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.

In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.

Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health.

Please let us know what you think about this article. All comments will be moderated before being posted publicly.


  1. She Said says

    But 100 Best…the problem with your reasoning is that in the world of natural healing and functional food there is never any funding to be found to prove the worth of these VERY worthwhile non-drug approaches to preventing and treating illness.

    Then when someone proposes they are good for you…can heal you…can prevent disease you always have someone saying, “Yeah right prove it! Where are your studies?!”

    While I agree that you usually do have to follow the money when it comes to traditional drug studies I think we must have at least a little give when it comes to functional foods and alternatives like herbs and supplements. Funding has to come from somewhere otherwise the benefits of the alternative approach are simply ignored.

    A good example is fish oil. How long had the alternative world been trying to convince people of its value before Big Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline realized there was some money to be made there if they did it the “right way” if they figured out how to make a prescription only version of the stuff ? They set about doing their studies proving what we already knew and then gave birth to Lovaza.

    Without having funding to back any studies the alternative’s voice on the matter was ignored. You were a crackpot if you said that fish oil would lower cholesterol. Now it is gospel.

    I don’t have an easy answer because I do see your point. But I don’t think we can simply dismiss important and useful research on a functional food like this one. Its the ONLY research we are even going to get on it unless the drug companies figure out a way to make a synthetic version of the active ingredients to sell. And in this case sure the walnut farmers benefit but most importantly so do WE.

  2. lexicop says

    Quote “To see what kind of affect these dietary changes had . . .”: I have trouble taking seriously the medical advice given by a writer who has not learned to distinguish between “affect” (verb, normally) and “effect” (noun, most of the time). Dietary changes have “effects,” not “affects” (unless you’re talking psychology). And nothing you can eat is “healthy”–when you eat it, it dies if it wasn’t already dead. No, it might be “healthful” or not, but “healthy” is the wrong adjective. Writers need to re-learn this valuable and overlooked word: Healthful.

  3. WhataWhat says

    Dr. Miller….get a life.

    Dr. Spreen thanks for sharing your article with us. I learned a lot. I already am fond of walnuts, so this will be an easy transition for me to make.

  4. Miriam L. Jones says

    I have switched to XVOO and occasionally substitute walnut oil for the olive oil also.

    I get bags of walnuts at Aldi’s, fresh celery, fresh apples, and mayonnaise or salad dressing. If you chop the apples and celery, and then mix them together with the walnuts and mayo, you have an old fashioned fruit salad called Waldorf Salad (a recipe from a chef at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC)

    Only make 1 or 2 days’ servings as it doesn’t do well unless it is fresh.

    Also, you can use custard-style tofu, drained and mix it 50-50 with the mayo. It makes a low-fat mayonnaise/salad dressing and tastes good too. Enjoy!

  5. Lori says

    Better watch the flax oil. The lignans act as weak estrogens, somewhat like the isoflavones in soy. When my daughter was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at age 5, a naturopath suggested I give her a tablespoon a day of flax oil. Two months later she began developing breast tissue. Yanked her off and she “deflated”. The ground up seeds are one thing, but the oil should be avoided.

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