Go Nuts – for Walnuts!

Walnuts closeup
Walnuts closeup

If you’ve been avoiding nuts because they are high in calories, stop now!  People who eat nuts in moderation (up to two ounces a day) can enjoy a variety of health benefits.  Walnuts are tree nuts, and they are the top dog of the nut world: they contain twice as many phytochemicals as their competitors.  Walnuts are the edible seeds of any tree of the genus, Juglans.  There are three main species of walnuts, the English walnut, black walnut, and white walnut.  The English walnut is the most widely consumed type of walnut in the United States.  Walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, zinc, vitamin E and protein.

Reasons to Eat Walnuts

The health benefits of eating walnuts in moderation (one-to-two ounces a day):

  1. Walnuts are rich in antioxidants: Walnuts are the most antioxidant-rich nuts of all the nuts, including tree nuts and peanuts.
  2. Walnuts lower LDL (bad) cholesterol:  Walnuts contain a large percentage of unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated fats.  They are also a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.  ALA has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed the heart-health benefits of walnuts on 365 participants, who were monitored during control diets and diets supplemented with walnuts.  Results showed walnuts cause a significantly greater decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
  3. Walnuts lower blood pressure: Walnuts contain the compound arginine which is converted to nitric oxide in the body.  This causes your constricted blood vessels to dilate easing blood flow.
  4. Walnuts lower cardiovascular disease risk: Several recent studies have linked higher intake of ALA to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  One quarter-cup of walnuts provides all the ALA you need in a day.
  5. Walnuts strengthen your bones:  The ALA in walnuts is also good for your skeleton as they strengthen your bones.  In a study by researchers at Penn State University, 23 participants were fed four different diets over 6-week periods.  One of the diets was a high-ALA diet.  This high-ALA diet resulted in significantly less bone breakdown than the other diets.
  6. Walnuts lower type 2 diabetes risk: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say that women who reported eating one ounce of walnuts at least five times a week reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 percent compared to those who rarely or never ate walnuts.
  7. Walnuts lower cancer risk: A 2010 scientific study by the University of Portugal concluded that the phenolic compounds and antioxidants in walnuts controlled the growth of human cancer cells.  Also the type of vitamin E found in abundance in walnuts has been shown to fight breast, prostate, and lung cancer.
  8. Walnuts lower mortality (premature death) risk: A nuts-and-longevity study published in 2013 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine involving 118,000 healthy volunteers found that people who ate one ounce (about a handful) of nuts (including walnuts) daily had a 20 percent lower death rate during the three-decade long study compared to participants who did not eat nuts.
  9. Walnuts help reduce stress: Recent scientific research shows that walnuts reduce blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory.  The stressful situations include plunging your feet into an ice bath or delivering a speech in front of your peers.  Those who eat walnuts have lower blood pressure, both in response to that stress or when not under stress.  Since walnut oil and flax oil produced similar results, the researchers believe the benefits may be due to the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
  10. Walnuts improve memory and concentration: A 2012 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function.  The report states that the antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

Putting it into Practice

  • Moderate consumption: Because walnuts are high in calories, limit yourself to one to two ounces of nuts a day.
  • Use as a salad topping: You can add walnuts to salads instead of croutons and bacon bits.
  • Use on cereals: Add walnuts to oatmeal or any cereal.
  • Use in side dishes: Sprinkle chopped walnuts on sautéed vegetables.  Or stir them into cooked whole grains or chicken salad.
  • Try walnut butter: If eating walnuts by the handful is not your idea of a fun snack, then try making walnut butter.  You could stir it into smoothies, plain yogurt, or oatmeal.  You can also spread it on whole grain bread.
  • Home made trail mix: You can prepare a home made trail mix using walnuts, dried fruit (like cherries or raisins), 70 percent dark chocolate chips, and 100 percent whole grain pretzels.
  • Replace unhealthy snacks: Eat walnuts and other nuts instead of chips and less healthy snacks so that your daily caloric intake is not increased.
  • Store properly: Since walnuts are high in fat, they are prone to go rancid and spoil.  So store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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You Can Be Nutty On The Mediterranean Diet

Nuts
Fruit and Nuts

The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, one type of healthy fat.  Nuts, particularly almonds, are rich in these monounsaturated fats.  Research shows that just one serving (1 ounce) of nuts is associated with lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

Almonds contain a lot of dietary fiber, in fact the highest amount of dietary fiber of all the tree nuts.  High fiber diets are associated with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Almonds contain powerful antioxidants that help prevent oxidation, a precursor to plaque buildup in our arteries.  These antioxidants (flavonoids and vitamin E) may be the key to almonds’ ability to protect LDL cholesterol and prevent death from cardiovascular disease.

Almonds relax our arteries so they open up, which lowers our blood pressure.  Almonds also reduce the ability of our blood to clot, therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack.

Almonds are calorie dense, so they should be consumed in moderation.  No more than one to two ounces a day.  An ounce is about a handful.  Click here to read this post for ideas on how to use almonds.

Finally it is best to store almonds in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  This is because they are high in fat, so they are prone to spoilage.