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Walnuts Pack a Nutritional Punch

This week I’m dedicating my blog posts to walnuts. You’ll learn about their health benefits, why top chefs love to use them in cooking, and why fitness experts love to suggest them as healthy snacks.

First up, nutrition. For a bumpy nut, walnuts are well-rounded when it comes to nutrition. Yes, they have fat and calories, which can be scary for dieters, but did you know that some fats are essential – meaning we have to get them from food. Omega 3 is the biggie, and walnuts have it. Also, a small amount of walnuts can help make meals satisfying. Read on to find out why you should be adding walnuts to your healthy grocery list.

Walnut’s Nutrition & Science Overview

Walnuts are distinctive from other nuts for a number of reasons. A handful of walnuts provides:

  • the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acid. As one of the best plant food sources of omega-3s, a one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of ALA.
  • heart health benefits. Walnuts were one of the first whole foods to receive a qualified health claim from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. [1]
  • polyunsaturated fat. While most nuts contain monounsaturated fats, only walnuts are comprised primarily of this “good” fat (13 grams out of 18 grams total fat).
  • a multitude of nutrients, including fiber, plant protein and a high amount of antioxidants. In fact, a 2006 study found that out of 1113 different foods examined, walnuts ranked only second to blueberries in terms of antioxidant content.[2]

While many studies have further fortified the many benefits of walnuts, three that might be of particular interest include:

Walnuts and Diabetes: New research, published in the February 2010 issue of Diabetes Care, demonstrated that consumption of a diet enriched with 56g (approximately two ounces) of walnuts per day for eight weeks significantly improved endothelial function in participants with type 2 diabetes. These findings suggest a potential reduction in overall cardiac risk.  The researchers believe these findings may be attributed to the favorable unique fatty acid and nutritional profile of walnuts providing the plant based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), along with numerous bioactive compounds with beneficial effects on coronary artery disease risk, including dietary fiber, folate, and antioxidants.

Walnuts and Breast Cancer: In the first research to look at the impact of walnut consumption on breast cancer growth, a pilot study examined whether daily consumption of walnuts (the equivalent of two ounces in humans) affected the growth of human breast cancer tumors implanted into mice. Although the first study to investigate the effects of whole walnuts on cancer, previous investigations have found specific components, present in walnuts, including omega 3 fatty acids, phytosterols, vitamin E and melatonin; to slow cancer growth. The investigators examined walnuts in this study due to their alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – the plant based omega 3 – antioxidants and phytosterol profile.

June 6th, 2010

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