The Humble Walnuts -The King of Nuts?

Nuts are good for your cholesterol levels and pack more antioxidants than blueberries

Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, calls walnuts “a real multitasker.”

The tree nut once roasted for its high-fat content has shown in several studies to help reduce cholesterol, regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation that can lead to cancer, improve cognitive function and memory, contribute to weight management, increase male fertility and reduce insulin levels.

In one serving (a quarter cup or 14 halves,) walnuts have 190 calories and 2.5 grams of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, making it the “only nut with a significant amount of plant-based omega-3s,” Wendy explains. They also provide 2 grams of fiber and “a respectable amount of protein.”

Wendy, author of “The SuperFoodsRx Diet”, has an encyclopedic knowledge of tree nut and of the research that has been conducted proving its worth.

“Walnuts should be credited for putting nuts back on the map for health,” Wendy says. “I’m not arguing the case that walnuts are nutritionally superior in all ways or second to these other nuts, but they are the representation food, the one that opened the door for the others. The research is pretty interesting because it’s broad and deep on walnuts.”

One of the studies that first shed light on the powerful nutritional value of walnuts by Dr. Joan Sabaté revealed that walnuts helped reduce cholesterol. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 and the media quickly caught on.

Soon walnuts and other nuts were no longer discredited for their fat content. Now it’s common knowledge that they contribute to heart health. And, as Wendy notes, when a walnut is cracked in half length-wise, it forms the shape of a heart.

When chopped the other way, the groovy nut mimics a brain, illustrating its vast cognitive benefits.

“There was one fun study at Andrews University where college students were fed either banana bread with or without walnuts over the course of the study. They were studying inferential reasoning, the difference between right and wrong, true and false,” Wendy says. Those eating the bread with walnuts “showed improvements in inferential reasoning.”

Walnuts also contain the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid, the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid, of any other nut. Omega-3s have been shown to preserve brain quality over time and may be a factor when looking at Alzheimer’s disease.

Surprisingly, walnuts also contain a high number of antioxidants, more than even blueberries.

“In one study in 2006, walnuts came in as No. 2 in terms of antioxidant content over 1,100 different foods,” Wendy says.

Those antioxidants may be the reason that walnuts have shown cancer-fighting properties. One study of mice conducted in July of this year indicated that eating 2 ounces of walnuts may prevent the formation and advancement of prostate cancer tumors.

Antioxidants and omega-3s may also be at play when it comes to fertility. One study from UCLA showed that walnuts can help sperm swim faster and improve the quality of sperm, which can increase male fertility.

Walnuts have another health benefit to boot.

“There are not a lot of known sources of melatonin, which promotes a healthy sleep cycle, but walnuts have it,” Wendy says. “Walnuts won’t put you to sleep, but they help regulate a healthy cycle.”

Wendy says to keep walnuts fresh and prevent them from losing nutrients or developing a bitter flavor, proper storage is key. They stay fresh for about a month in the cabinet, six months in the refrigerator or a year in the freezer.

“Some people who find walnuts have an off taste are probably eating walnuts that have extended beyond their shelf life,” she says, adding that oxidation is what causes them to go bad, just like blueberries or wine. “Not every food is for everyone though. That’s why Mother Nature had a wonderful plan and gave us so much variety.”

When fresh, walnuts can be prepared in a variety of ways and used in a number of dishes. The labyrinth-like grooves in the nut pick up flavors, Wendy says. They also make great toppings on everything from pasta to ice cream and of course can be enjoyed on their own.

“I love toasting them. It brings out this delicious, roasted, toasty flavor,” Wendy says. “It’s just a great way to bring out the flavor profile.”

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