Best snack for students? Walnuts help reduce academic stress, study shows

ADELAIDE, Australia — Being a university student can sometimes feel like your stress level will never go down and the workload will never end. However, new research finds that eating just two ounces of walnuts per day may be able to help counteract the harmful effects of academic stress.

University students are a unique population of people who transition into their adulthood while completing university degrees which can be challenging and stressful. The pressure to complete and find attractive jobs is high and can impact on students’ mental and physical health and overall well-being,” says Larisa Bobrovskaya, PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical and Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, in a media release.

To explore the potential effects of dietary interventions, Bobrovskaya and the team conducted a randomized controlled trial with 60 university students between 18 and 35 years-old, randomly selected to be in either a treatment group or control group for 16 weeks. The treatment group had to consume 56 grams of walnuts daily while the control group did not consume any nuts or fatty fish.

The students provided blood and saliva samples and completed questionnaires to give the team insight on their mental health, mood, overall well-being, and sleep habits at three different times throughout the study. Some participants also provided fecal samples during each visit.

Walnuts improve mental health scores and sleep quality

From their experiments, the researchers found that eating walnuts daily prevented worrisome shifts in mental health-related scores for stress and depression. It also appeared to improve metabolism by increasing total protein and albumin levels, which can also be protective against the harms of academic stress. Walnut consumption even helped to improve sleep, according to the students’ self-reports.

These findings are consistent with other clinical and observational studies that link walnuts with lowering the frequency of depressive symptoms, improving mood, and reaching better overall health at an older age. In light of this, the study authors are even more proud of what their work has contributed to the body of evidence.

“We’ve always known walnuts to be a health-promoting food, but because of the design and length of this study, the findings really paint a picture of how a simple food like walnuts can help combat stress,” explains Mauritz F. Herselman, a PhD student who worked on this study.

“While more supporting research is needed, evidence is becoming clear that consuming walnuts as a healthy eating pattern may have positive effects on cognition and mental health, potentially owing to their abundance in omega-3 ALA content,” adds Bobrovskaya.

The findings appear in the journal Nutrients.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center where she currently is gaining experience with various populations and areas of medical nutrition such as Pediatrics, Oncology, GI surgery, and liver and renal transplant. Shyla also has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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