Last month, researchers found that one of the benefits of walnuts could be lower blood pressure. Plus, walnuts 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 this study on the benefits of walnuts, 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, the benefits of walnuts included lowering 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

The benefits of walnuts can also been seen 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 to experience the powerful benefits of walnuts. 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.