High blood pressure is one of those conditions that can sneak up on you over time. You go for a checkup and your blood pressure is right where it should be in the normal range. A year or two later, nothing has changed except maybe you put on a couple of pounds, but when you go for your physical, your doctor suddenly says you are hypertensive. Maybe you’re on the borderline and receive instructions to monitor your pressure and lose a little weight. Or you may already be well past that point, and your doctor is sending you home with a prescription for pharmaceutical drugs to lower those numbers. Either way, it is time for you to take action, and new research suggests that you can help lower your blood pressure with a simple tweak to your diet.
The study, which took place at the Pennsylvania State University in State College, found that eating more walnuts is associated with a reduction in blood pressure and a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.1Tindall, Alyssa M.; et al. “Replacing Saturated Fat With Walnuts or Vegetable Oils Improves Central Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids in Adults at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease: A Randomized Controlled-Feeding Trial.” Journal of the American Heart Association. 7 May 2019. Accessed 5 May 2019. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.118.011512. The subjects were 45 overweight or obese men and women, ranging in age from 30 to 65.
To explore the effects of cutting back on saturated fat, the researchers provided the participants with meals that reduced saturated fat by five percent. And they replaced it with alpha-linolenic, other non-omega 3 polyunsaturated acids, oleic acids, or whole walnuts. Alpha-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that comes from plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, canola oil, and tofu. Oleic acids are monosaturated fats derived from a variety of sources including olive oil, avocados, and sesame oil.
All the volunteers, regardless of which switch was made to their diet, benefitted from eating a little less saturated fat and showed improvements in indicators of cardiovascular health. But only those who added walnuts to their meals had the extra advantage of lowering their blood pressure readings.
This is really important considering the fact that approximately 75 million American adults—or roughly one in three—have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypertension is potentially a very dangerous condition that considerably raises the risk of heart attack and stroke because it reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to both the heart and brain.
Although the small size of the population sample included in the research makes it difficult to know whether these findings would apply to everyone, we do know that it offers a possible solution that is a no-brainer to try. That is, switching out some of the saturated fat in a person’s diet for a handful of walnuts a day just might add up to a big difference over time in cardiovascular risk.
As for walnuts helping to lower blood pressure, there may be several factors that give the nuts an edge over the other types of fatty acids. Walnuts contain vitamin E and polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that fight free radicals. What’s more, walnuts are a good source of fiber, which has been shown to lower the risk of stroke.
So, in order to reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, start by limiting the amount of red meat, dairy products, and processed snacks like cookies you eat, since they are all high in saturated fats. Even if you begin by modifying just one meal a week, you can institute further changes over time. Instead, choose meals based around fish, hormone-free poultry, whole grains, vegetables, and beans and legumes.
There are also lots of options for increasing your intake of walnuts. Keeping a bag on hand for a snack is great, as the nuts will fill you up, give you a nice satisfying crunch, and help you avoid making an impulse choice of junk food. In meals, walnuts are a tasty addition to salads, go exceptionally well with simple chicken dishes, and are delicious in homemade muffins.