Walnuts and a low saturated fats diet can help to reduce blood pressure for people at risk of heart disease

An image of walnuts, which may reduce blood pressure when combined with a diet low in saturated fat
© iStock/pearleye

A new study has found that eating walnuts can reduce blood pressure in people at risk of heart disease when combined with a low saturated fats diet.

The study from Penn State analysed what happened when they replaced saturated fats with walnuts in participants’ diets. The researchers found that eating whole walnuts on a daily basis, combined with consuming less saturated fat in their diet, was associated with a lower central blood pressure. The fact that this could reduce central blood pressure suggests it could also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Why are they beneficial?

Penny Kris-Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State, explained: “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. 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.”

Alyssa Tindall, a recent student in Dr. Kris-Etherton’s lab and Ph.D graduate in nutrition, added: “Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid — ALA — a plant-based omega-3 that may positively affect blood pressure,” Tindall said. “We wanted to see if ALA was the major contributor to these heart-healthy benefits, or if it was other bioactive component of walnuts, like polyphenols. We designed the study to test if these components had additive benefits.”

Advice for incorporating them into your diet

Kris-Etherton concluded: “Instead of reaching for fatty red meat or full-fat dairy products for a snack, consider having some skim milk and walnuts. 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.”

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