For many of us, the stress of April 15th can send blood pressure soaring. Eating foods that support rather than undermine the body's ability to respond to stress can make a big difference, as scientists are currently discovering. For example, Penn State researchers looked into how a diet rich in walnuts (including walnut oil) might affect stress markers. Twenty-two adults with high cholesterol were fed various amounts of walnuts over the course of six weeks, then were measured for blood pressure responses to stress -- in this case they were either required to give a speech or had their feet plunged into ice water (almost as bad as Tax Day!). The result: The walnut munchers enjoyed a milder stress reaction, as measured by a smaller change in blood pressure and heart rate.
"People who show an exaggerated biological response to stress are at higher risk of heart disease," said study author, Associate Professor Sheila West. "This is the first study to show that walnuts and walnut oil reduce blood pressure during stress. This is important because we can't avoid all stressors in our daily lives." Moreover, higher stress was linked to higher cholesterol, in one study.
While more research is needed to confirm these preliminary findings, they do build on previous studies suggesting other kinds of nuts -- almonds, pistachios, pecans and even macadamia nuts may have a beneficial impact on cholesterol levels. Another possible anti-stress food? Gazpacho, according to one Tufts University study.