Nature's Answer to Stress

Stressful situations are unavoidable. Try as we might, life is going to throw us some curve balls. For that matter, taking on challenges is an important part of living a full life, and a little stress goes along with making those leaps.

Before you reach for a handful of pills, think about a handful of walnuts, or downing a shot of flax oil. That’s right, a new study showed that the alpha linolenic acid found in walnuts and flax helped measurably reduce blood pressure in people who were undergoing stress. The good fats concentrated in these tasty foods already help reduce bad LDL cholesterol, but now we have another good reason to eat them regularly.

This is especially good news for vegetarians. The Omegas in vegetarian sources are often seen as second rate, much like vegetarian iron and Vitamin D. The conventional wisdom is that the Omega 3’s in fish oil are better, because the ALA in plant sources has to be converted in our bodies into docosahexaenoid Acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). That is still true, but this shows a benefit for the vegan ALA that is unique.

For the study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 22 adults with high LDL levels were put on one of three calorie-matched diets with identical amounts of fat and protein: a standard American diet without nuts; a similar diet, with 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil replacing some of the fat and protein; and a third diet including walnuts, walnut oil and 1.5 tablespoons of flax seed oil.

Participants saw a drop in their LDL and resting blood pressure, and when put in a stressful situation, like giving a speech, their blood pressure was measurably lower.

The bonus was that the group taking flax also saw a drop in C-reactive protein, a blood marker of inflammation that is a predictor of heart disease.

So, vegetarians, vegans and especially omnivores would do well to replace some of the fat in their diets with walnut, flax, hemp and canola. Vegans will optimize their conversion of ALA into DHA and EPA by eating a balanced diet, with enough protein, B6, Biotin, Calcium, Copper, Magnesium and Zinc. If you worry that you are missing out, take a supplement. The National Institutes of Health recommends that a person eating a 2000 calorie per day diet should strive for 4 g of omega 3’s, which can be achieved with a tablespoon of flax oil or a scant 1/2 cup of walnuts. Small amounts in other foods do add up, with a cup of broccoli adding .2 g, or 4 oz tofu at .36g.

It’s easy to use walnut and flax oil in your salad dressing, as a bread dipping oil, or as part of spreads or smoothies. The whole walnut eating is too fun to consider a sacrifice, and adding ground flax to smoothies and baking is effortless.

And practice your low-stress, zen detachment when faced with stressful situations. It may even help to think about how calmly your blood vessels are pumping blood, even as you feel that little flutter of excitement. You may be nervous about that presentation, but at least your body will stay calm when it counts.

Walnut Vinaigrette