A handful of walnuts a day could help college students combat stress, a new study has revealed.
College students who ate two ounces of walnuts a day for 16 weeks experienced an improvement in their mental health.
They reported feeling less stressed by their studies and less affected by depression symptoms and noted an improvement in sleep quality.
The 16-week randomized clinical trial studied 60 randomly selected college students aged 18 to 35 years.
Half were placed in the treatment group and the other half in the control group.
The treatment group ate about 56 grams of nuts per day, while the control group avoided eating any nuts or oily fish.
Each person provided blood and saliva samples and filled out a series of questionnaires about their mental health, mood, general well-being, and sleep habits.
They did this three times during the study. A subgroup of participants also provided stool samples at each clinic visit. The study showed that the group that ate nuts daily was less affected by academic stress than those that avoided them.
It also showed that eating nuts can help you sleep.
Additionally, researchers found that eating walnuts had the power to reduce the severity and frequency of depression symptoms, improve mood in healthy young adults, and increase the chances of achieving overall health in old age.
University a stressful time
About 80 percent of college students report frequent bouts of stress, and 61 percent seek counseling for anxiety, depression, or other needs.
Dr Larisa Bobrovskaya, Associate Professor of Clinical and Health Sciences at the University of South Australia and the study’s principal investigator, said: “College students are a unique population of people transitioning into adulthood while completing college degrees that can be challenging and stressful.
“The pressure to complete and find attractive jobs is high and can affect students’ physical and mental health and general well-being.
“Therefore, managing academic stress is important, and students can adopt various strategies to get through their college journeys.
“Dietary intervention is one of those strategies that can improve students’ brain health, but is often neglected by students.”
Most nuts are good for overall physical and mental health, as they are full of important vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, and good fats like omega 3s.
Walnuts may also improve gut health, decrease inflammation, help lower blood pressure, and manage type two diabetes.
The researchers found that eating nuts led to increased levels of proteins such as albumin. Albumin is a protein in blood plasma.
Dr Bobrovskaya said: “While more supporting research is needed, the evidence is becoming clearer that consuming nuts as a healthy eating pattern may have positive effects on cognition and mental health, possibly due to their abundance in omega-3 content.
“In addition, research has shown that increasing dietary tryptophan, which the brain uses to produce serotonin (a natural mood stabilizer), reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“Therefore, the presence of tryptophan in walnuts may also have contributed to these findings.”
However, the researchers emphasize that the results could have been influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic, as clinic visits were disrupted during this time.
More work is now needed to improve understanding of the complex pathways through which eating nuts may influence the brain or affect mental health.
Mauritz Herselman, a doctoral student who worked on the study, said: “We’ve always known that nuts are a health-promoting food, but because of the design and length of this study, the findings really paint a picture of how a Simple foods like nuts can help combat stress.”
Adding nuts to daily eating patterns could be a small, versatile, simple and accessible dietary change to promote brain health and general well-being in college students.
The study was published in the journal Nutrients and was co-funded by the University of South Australia and the California Nut Commission.