Walnuts have innumerable health benefits. Walnut is an edible seed of the tree nut Juglans regia. The plant originated in India and the regions surrounding the Caspian Sea, and in the 4th century AD, the ancient Romans introduced the walnut to many European countries. The tree serves a multitude of uses; it can be used as food (edible seed), medicine, furniture and dye. The walnut seed has a number of health benefits ranging from weight management to prevention and slowing of various cancers.
Walnuts Nutrition Facts: Walnuts are high in protein, vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, trace minerals, lecithin and oils. Compared with other nuts, which typically contain a high amount of monounsaturated fats, walnuts are unique because the fats in them are primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and are the only nut with a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid. Moreover, walnuts have insignificant amounts of sodium and are cholesterol free.
Calories in Walnuts: An ounce (28g) of (chopped) walnuts contain 183 calories of which 153 calories come from the fats.
Vitamins and Minerals in Walnuts: Walnut contains a large amount of vitamins B6 (0.2mg per ounce of walnut) providing 8 percent of the daily requirement. It also has plenty of folate and thiamin and useful quantity of vitamin E in the form of tocopherol. Walnut is a rich source of manganese, one serving contributing to almost half of its required daily value. It is also rich in other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and iron.
Omega 3 in Walnuts: Omega 3 and Omega 6 are two essential fatty acids required by our body for cell growth, immune function, blood clotting and disease prevention, but our body cannot make them on their own. So these fatty acids have to be obtained from our diet. Our body needs two critical Omega-3 fatty acids, (eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and docosahexaenoic or DHA) and walnut contains a precursor Omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts to EPA and DHA. An ounce (28g) of walnuts provides 18g of total fat of which 13g are PUFA and 2.5g are ALA.
Cholesterol Content in Walnuts: Walnut helps prevent heart disease and are the fruit recommended for lowering cholesterol. It is an established fact that coronary heart disease (CHD) is associated with high total cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol levels. Studies carried out across United States, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Israel indicated that consuming 2 to 3 servings of walnuts daily decreases cholesterol levels sufficient to lower risk of CHD.
Walnuts as Brain Food: Walnuts have potential health benefits in the area of memory and cognitive function as well. Low omega 3 intake has been linked to depression and decline in cognitive function. And taking into consideration that walnut is a rich source of ALA (omega 3), it no doubt promotes brain health. Studies however show that only moderate amount of walnut (2 or 6 percent of a healthy diet) can improve motor and behavioral skills in older adults and higher amounts, say 9 percent, impaired reference memory.
Walnuts for Hair - Walnut is a good ‘hair food’ too. This is because walnut contains biotin (vitamin B7) that helps strengthen hair, reduce hair fall and improve hair growth to certain extent. However, not much scientific data is available to support these claims. Walnuts in Pregnancy - Although not much research has gone into the safety and benefits of consuming walnut during pregnancy, it is believed that walnut may stave off nausea during pregnancy and boost brain development in the child. However, one study showed that consuming tree nuts (including walnut) during pregnancy could raise the odds of asthma as food allergy in the child by 50 percent. But Harvard School of Public Health nutritionists rather suggest that consumption of peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy might even decrease the risk of allergic disease development in children. Walnuts to Prevent Cancer - Walnuts contain multiple ingredients that, individually, have been shown to slow cancer growth, including omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytosterols. Consuming walnuts regularly could even reduce the risk for breast cancer in humans indicated researchers at Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Marshall University School of Medicine, Huntington, West Virginia following a study on laboratory animals. According to them beta-sitosterol (a phytosterol) in combination with gama-tocopherol (vitamin E) benefited against cancer cell growth. Numerous studies have also shown that regular consumption of walnut can prevent and even slow the progress of prostate cancer.
Walnuts and Type 2 Diabetes - Diabetes and obesity expert Dr. David Katz recommends walnut as a nutritious food that must form an important component of a healthy diet. He completely agrees with the Harvard study that found two or more servings of walnuts per week to be associated with 15 to 21 percent lower risk of incident type 2 diabetes in white US women.
Walnuts for Weight Management - Contrary to what people believe, walnuts are actually good for weight management since an ounce of walnut contains 2.5g of omega 3 fats, 4g of protein and 2g of fiber that help provide satiety. And any successful weight management plan must include the satiety factor; so walnut is undoubtedly the right food to consider if you are into weight management program. Despite being ‘dense in calories’, walnut can also help with weight loss as is evident from the findings of a research published in the International Journal of Obesity, where overweight people following a Mediterranean style diet that included walnuts for 18 months could improve weight loss and keep weight off for a longer period than those following a low-fat diet.
Walnuts for Men - Eating about 75g of walnut daily could help improve sperm quality. Researchers from the UCLA found that the men who ate walnuts experienced improvement in sperm vitality, motility, and morphology, as compared to those who didn’t. ‘Walnuts provide a particularly rich source of a-linolenic acid, a natural plant source of omega-3, which we suspect may have been responsible for the improvements we observed,’ said study researcher Catherine Carpenter. However, they are not sure if the findings work for men who have fertility problems.
Walnuts for Kidney Stones - Despite so many health benefits of walnut, it is best to be careful on the amount and frequency of walnut consumption. That is because walnut is high in oxalates and oxalates contribute to kidney stone formation.
Walnuts Soaked in Water - The nutrient profile of walnuts changes insignificantly when roasted, toasted or baked for short periods of time. But many chefs and nutritionists suggest soaking walnuts in water to get rid of the tannins and make it more digestible. Others however feel that there is no scientific research to substantiate the greater digestibility of soaked nuts.
Walnuts vs. Cashews, Almonds, and Other Nuts - So, which nut is the best? Difficult to say; each has its own benefits and drawbacks. ‘Almonds have slightly more vitamin E than walnuts, and much more magnesium. Walnuts, stand out as the only nut with an appreciable amount of alpha-linolenic acid. Peanuts lead in the folate category. Cashews have even more magnesium than almonds (83mg per ounce vs. 73) but they lag behind in vitamin E. If it’s selenium you’re after - as many men are, because the mineral might protect against prostate cancer - then look to Brazil nuts,’ according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. So it’s really up to you. But what’s sure is that nuts are healthy food and must be included in the diet.
Walnuts are wonderfully versatile nuts - add it to salads for a nutty crunch, or make a coating for poultry and fish or make a creamy sauce or use it in the sweet dish of your choice. Or just eat it raw and keep healthy!