Snacking on Whole Almonds for Six Weeks Increases Heart Rate Variability during Mental Stress in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
Cardiac autonomic regulation can be indirectly measured by heart rate variability (HRV). Low HRV, which can be induced by mental stress, is a predictor of risk of sudden cardiac death. Few studies have investigated cause-and-effect relationships between diet and HRV. Nut consumption is associated with CVD risk reduction, but the impact on HRV, particularly in response to stress, is unclear. Men and women (30-70 y) with above average risk of developing CVD were randomly assigned in a 6-week randomized, controlled, parallel arm trial to consume either whole almond or isocaloric control snacks (20% of daily estimated energy requirement). Control snacks contained the average nutrient profile of UK snacks. Five-minute periods of supine heart rate (HR) and HRV were measured at resting and during mental stress (Stroop color-word test) at baseline and six weeks. High frequency (HF) power, which reflects parasympathetic regulation of HR, was increased following almonds during the mental stress task relative to control (mean difference between groups 124 ms2; 95% CI 11, 237; p = 0.031, n = 105), but other indices were unaffected. Snacking on whole almonds instead of typical snacks may reduce risk of CVD partly by ameliorating the suppression of HRV during periods of mental stress.