Why Are Walnuts Good For You?
Walnuts are one of nature’s best foods, full of beneficial nutrition that is decidedly lacking in the standard American diet.
Here’s what walnuts are good for nutritionally and why your body, and especially your brain, need more of what they have to offer.
Also covered are walnut fat content and calories and why they don’t matter, plus where to get the best tasting walnuts.
8 Nutritional Benefits of Walnuts For Your Body and Brain
1. Omega-3 in Walnuts
The most important element of walnut nutrition is their high level of omega-3 fats. An ounce of fresh walnuts has around 2.3 grams of omega-3 alpha linolenic acid. This is nearly 100% of the RDA for omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be involved in a great number of important physiological processes in your body. For some quick highlights:
- A good intake of omega-3 fat has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, as well as reduce blood pressure. In fact, omega-3 has such a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system it is recommended to lower the risk of heart disease and why walnuts are recognized as such a healthy heart food.
- Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body. Most diseases are diseases of inflammation and conditions like arthritis and diabetes can show significant improvement when the level of omega-3 in the diet is increased with foods like walnuts.
- The alpha linolenic acid found in walnuts has a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect on the gastrointestinal tract and may reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been used to help treat depression and are believed to have a role in preventing mental decline as we grow older. They are also vital for proper brain function and may have an impact on our mental clarity and day-to-day mood.
We don’t produce these fatty acids in our bodies so they must be obtained solely through the food we eat. Rarely though does the standard supermarket fare contain much of this important nutritional element.
Unless you have a lot of walnuts, flaxseed meal, chia seeds or oily fish in your diet already, you probably need more omega-3 fatty acids, particularly for brain health.
2. Walnut Vitamin E
Many people know that walnuts are good for you because they are a great source of vitamin E. Probably not as well-known is that this vitamin E is primarily in the most potent form: gamma tocopherol.
Gamma tocopherol is a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps maintain the structure of cell membranes and protect them from damaging free radicals.
It is particularly important for preventing heart problems, but new research is showing it can have a role in reducing your risk of developing a variety of other health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and certain kinds of cancer.
Walnut nutrition includes around 5 mg of gamma-tocopherol per ounce and they are one of the richest natural sources. If you would like to get more vitamin E into your diet avocado is another delicious and highly nutritious source.
3. B Vitamins
Vitamin E is the real standout vitamin in walnut nutrition but they also have a variety of B vitamins, with the exception of B12. Of these B vitamins, they are highest in B6 which is necessary for protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as folate, needed for DNA and red blood cell synthesis and critical for healthy brain function.
Combining walnuts with other nuts and seeds like extremely healthy almonds is a good way to cover a lot of nutritional bases and makes for an easy and filling snack.
Walnuts are particularly rich in the minerals manganese for healthy bone structure and copper for energy production, enzyme creation and healthy hair and skin.
The nutrition in walnut kernels also contains other important minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, molybdenum and selenium.
5. Walnut Antioxidants
Nutritionally, walnuts are one the most potent in terms of the antioxidant content. Aside from the high levels of alpha linolenic acid and gamma tocopherol already mentioned, walnuts contain a broad array of flavonoids, phenolic acids and beneficial tannins.
Some, like the gallic and ellagic acid found in walnuts, have been heavily studied and are known to be powerful antioxidants for cancer prevention.
Others like morin, recently shown to be a powerful free radical scavenger, tellimagrandin demonstrated to protect DNA strands from breakdown, and juglone with its potential anti-cancer properties, are much rarer and a bag of fresh walnuts are one of the best sources.
This broad spectrum of antioxidants in walnuts is likely why a decrease in the risk of life-threatening illnesses like heart disease and diabetes is observed in people who eat walnuts regularly.
Importantly, many of these antioxidant phytonutrients are found in the flaky brown skins on the nut, so make sure you get your walnuts with the skins on and eat them that way.
Walnuts are a source of phytosterols with around 30 mg per ounce. Phytosterols are plant sterols that have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels, but you need a lot more from other sources to make a noticeable difference in this area.
Ground flaxseed is an even higher source and is also rich in omega-3s, soluble fiber and anti-estrogenic lignans.
7. Fiber In Walnuts
Walnuts are considered quite a high fiber food and this is yet another reason why walnuts are good for you. Just eating a handful of walnuts provides approximately 2 grams of beneficial dietary fiber for your digestive tract.
8. Walnut Protein and Carbohydrates
Like most nuts, walnuts are low in carbohydrates with under 4 grams per ounce. This makes them a blood sugar stable food to eat between meals that won’t make you hungry in the way sugary or grain-based foods tend to.
Walnuts are a reasonable source of protein, particularly for vegetarians and vegans, with more than 4 grams in an ounce of the fresh nuts. This isn’t complete protein but you can make it so by combining them with other nuts.
In fact, mixed nuts are a great way to get a broad range of nutritional benefits and are a convenient and filling snack that you can take to work or have in your bag when out.
Walnut Fat Content
Walnuts are a high fat and, therefore, high calorie food. Despite this, they are not only very good for your health, they can actually help you lose weight as well.
The next page on walnuts many health benefits explains why the nutrients they contain are so good at satisfying hunger as well as reducing the underlying causes of weight gain.
A quarter of a cup of walnuts contains around 16 grams of fat, of which only 1.5 grams is saturated, primarily palmitic acid. The rest is made up of omega-9 oleic acid, omega-6 linoleic acid and, compared to other nuts, an unusually high amount of omega-3 alpha linolenic acid. Being a plant food they contain no cholesterol.
Calories in Walnuts and Why They Don’t Really Matter
For those concerned with calories, there are around 25 calories in one walnut. An ounce of walnuts, that’s usually 14 or so halves, has close to 180 calories. While a whole cup of chopped walnuts contained approximately 780 calories.
That sounds like a lot, but I challenge anyone to comfortably eat that much in one sitting.
The reason counting calories alone is an ineffective way to lose weight is because it doesn’t take into account the effect particular foods have on your body and how this impacts weight loss. In the case of walnuts, they are actually one of the best foods for increasing satiety, that feeling of satisfied fullness that stops hunger dead in its tracks.
They are also rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients. This is important with regards to preventing weight gain as chronic inflammation is now being demonstrated to be a major cause of obesity.
Perhaps most surprising of all for some people to come to terms with, we actually need certain fats to lose fat. Particularly the omega-3s that walnut is so high in nutritionally.
Most of the weight loss advice preached in the mainstream media is flawed at best, often completely wrong. Diets and starving yourself almost always make you gain weight in the long run and following the standard nutritional pyramid will often make you fat.
Strong statements perhaps, but the proof is all around you every time you’re out on a busy street. If you’d like to go a different way, that doesn’t involve going hungry, just eating the right type of foods at the right times, then have a look at the 3 Week Diet. If we as a society don’t change our diets to more like the one described there, I truly believe we are going to collapse under our own weight.
Where to Get the Best Walnuts
While buying them in the shell and cracking your own walnuts each time you want one is probably best, not many of us have the time for that. Realistically, you’d probably end up eating much less of them.
With all of the walnut nutritional facts listed above, it’s better to get them already hulled and ready to eat for convenience.
Walnuts should also always be stored in the fridge. Keep them in an airtight container or the bag they came in tightly closed. They can be kept for several months this way but fresher is always better.
Because of this, it actually doesn’t make good sense to get your walnuts from small stores with low turnover as they’re likely to have been sitting for a while. As mentioned in the section above on antioxidants, you also want the skin on for the maximum nutrition. I look for US organically grown walnuts as well.
While they should be kept refrigerated, you can have them out for ten minutes to warm them to room temperature before you eat them if you like.
Walnuts also shouldn’t be roasted or heated for too long as this can damage the nutritional elements, like the gamma tocopherol and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, that walnuts are so good for.
Thank you for reading about walnut nutrition and I hope you’ll let your friends and family know that walnuts are very good for you and worth eating more of.
Next is a look at the amazing health benefits of walnuts and how they can help protect you against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and much more.
Photo 1: Ioan Sameli / Photo 2: Public Domain / Photo 3: tvol