“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale… ,” writes author Vera Nazarian in her book “The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration.”
The benefits of eating walnuts, often regarded as a wonder food, are plenty. Walnuts are good not only for physical health, but also for mental health of young adults, especially men, says a recent study by the University of New Mexico (UNM).
For college students, walnuts could be a key to a happier state of mind, according to UNM Nutrition Professor Peter Pribis. Walnuts contain several nutrients, including alpha-Linolenic acid, vitamin E, folate, polyphenols or melatonin, that help in improving mood in people.
The effort by Pribis and his team is the first study in humans to measure the effect of walnut on mood. College life is full of stress when students have to juggle between various activities, like work, study and play. And the most common advice these young adults receive is to eat well, do plenty of exercises and get adequate sleep to overcome stress. And another addition to the list is walnut, as it helps youngsters in managing stress, as per the study.
“In the past, studies on walnuts have shown beneficial effects on many health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Our study was different because we focused on cognition, and in this controlled randomized trial (CRT) we measured mood outcomes in males and females,” said Pribis.
The participants included 64 students between the ages of 18 and 25 and belonged to various ethnic groups like Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Asian.
The researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over feeding trial with walnuts on the students for eight weeks. The students were given three slices of banana bread every day for 16 weeks, eight weeks of banana bread with walnuts and eight weeks of banana bread without walnuts. The students weren’t able to differentiate between the tastes because the nuts were finely ground into the dough, making the banana bread become similar in taste and appearance. The students were given half a cup of walnuts daily while eating banana bread with walnuts.
When the mood of the students was measured at the end of each eight-week period, Pribis noticed a significant improvement in the mood of young, healthy adults.
Women did not seem to gain similar benefits
“We used a validated questionnaire called Profiles of Mood States (POMS). It is one of the most widely used and accepted mood scales in studies on cognition. The test has six mood domains: tension, depression, anger, fatigue, vigor, confusion and also provides a Total Mood Disturbance score (TMD). The lower the TMD score the better the mood,” Pribis said.
There was a 28 percent enhancement in the moods of the young men. However, no such improvement was seen in case of females.
Pribis has a clear message to the young adults which is in line with the findings of this study, “Eat more walnuts. This is an easy intervention. They’re not only good for your mood, but overall health as well. The recommended amount is one handful per day.”
Dealing with stress and depression
It is not only stress experienced by these young people, depression is equally prevalent among them. It is one of the most common mental disorders among people. However, depression is treatable and patients can lead normal lives after timely treatment.