Nuts for walnuts? Then we have some good news for you, especially if you know you're at risk for heart disease. A new study found that walnuts may help lower blood pressure. But don't think you can just add this one snack to your meal plan and call it a day — researchers say this trick only works if you eat the right diet along with them.
"Instead of reaching for fatty red meat or full-fat dairy products for a snack, consider having some skim milk and walnuts," says Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, the author of the May 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which analyzed 45 adults who were overweight or obese.
All these participants were put on a diet similar to the average American's for two weeks prior to the study. After this preliminary eating plan, the participants were then divided into three groups and randomly assigned to a new diet that substituted nuts or vegetable oils for five percent of saturated fat content. One plan incorporated walnuts; another included the acids found in walnuts without actual walnuts themselves; and the last one included a different fatty acid not found in walnuts. Each participant tried all three diets for six weeks each.
"When participants ate whole walnuts, they saw greater benefits than when they consumed a diet with a similar fatty acid profile as walnuts without eating the nut itself," said Kris-Etherton in a press release. "So it seems like there's a little something extra in walnuts that are beneficial — maybe their bioactive compounds, maybe the fiber, maybe something else — that you don't get in the fatty acids alone."
When the folks incorporated the whole walnuts, researchers observed lower central blood pressure (aka pressure exerted on crucial organs like the heart). However, it's worth keeping in mind that this all happened in the context of these participants eating a diet that was overall low in saturated fat (making up just seven percent of daily intake).
If you're trying to lower the amount of saturated fat you eat, salmon and trout, almonds and cashews, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and the ever-popular avocados are great options. "I think it boils down to how we can get the most out of the food we're eating, specifically, 'how to get a little more bang out of your food buck.' In that respect, walnuts are a good substitute for saturated fat." Just another reason to reach for a walnut.