walnuts

Walnuts Health Benefits

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Most nuts provide a range of health benefits in some form or another, but the walnut is king when it comes to protecting and caring for the heart!

The health properties of walnuts come primarily from its exceptionally high levels of healthy mono-unsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acids. Both of which are not easy to come by from our diets and yet play a vital role in preventing heart disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, walnuts are one of the “top 5 foods for lowering LDL cholesterol levels”.

As well as keeping our heart healthy, walnuts contain a number of valuable minerals that are critical in keeping the body functioning properly. They are particularly rich in the trace elements – manganese and copper, but also provide us with major minerals including; calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium.

Backround

Walnuts were known as ‘food for the gods’, in particular, Jupiter. In fact its scientific name Juglans Regia translates roughly to “regal nut of Jupiter”. It was believed walnuts could treat a number of ailments, increase intellect and provide a calming effect on an individual. Research has shown that there is actually substance behind these ancient findings.

Walnuts are part of the tree-nut family and grown throughout the world. These walnut trees can reach over 100 feet tall.

There are a variety of species of walnuts, the most common being the black and white (or light brown) varieties, as shown in the picture above. The walnut kernel is well protected in a hard, oblong shaped shell. It is white in color and covered in a thin, brown skin.

Health Benefits..

Healthy Fats

Too often people look only at the fat and calorie content of foods to determine whether or not to eat it without examining the kind of fat in the food or other benefits offered. This leads people to miss out on a lot of delicious and healthy meal and snack options.

It is true that walnuts are fat and calorie rich. But the fat in walnuts is not the same kind of saturated fat you associate with margarine for example.

Nearly 50% of the fat contained in walnuts is poly-unsaturated fat, followed by a quarter of mono-unsaturated fat.

Research has shown that the poly-unsaturated fats in walnuts are ‘protective’ fats and may actually help undo damage caused by saturated fats.

Mono-unsaturated fat is also known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Walnuts are particularly rich in these fats and research has consistently shown that omega-3 fatty acid helps to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, and also boosts the beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

A good handful of walnuts (approx 25grams) contain more than 90% of your recommended daily intake of omega-3, which is more than a serving of salmon – widely touted as a super food.

Antioxidant Power

Walnuts are also rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants that help protect the heart and numerous other health conditions from cell damage.

According to research from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, walnuts have more antioxidants and better quality ones than nine other type of nut they analyzed.

The independent research also claimed that just “twenty-eight grams of walnuts (an ounce) have more antioxidants than the sum of what the average person gets from fruits and vegetables.” This fact alone makes walnuts an incredibly powerful food, as antioxidants play such a key role in fighting free radical damage that affects so many areas of our health.

Brain Food

Another benefit to walnuts high content of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, and vitamin E, is that they are fantastic fuel for the central nervous system. Recently, a connection has been discovered between ADHD and the under consumption of certain omega fatty acids.

These nutrients can act as a natural mood elevator as well. Walnuts, like common antidepressant drugs influence the brains uptake of serotonin and melatonin which can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia, without the dangerous side effects.

Cancer Fighting

The high levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in walnuts make them a potent, cancer fighting food.

Preliminary studies into breast cancer have shown walnuts to be effective at reducing tumor size in mice that were genetically altered to develop prostate cancer. Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and especially phytosterols contained in walnuts can help prevent breast cancer tumor growth.

Phytosterols bind to estrogen receptors which researchers expect to slow the growth of some estrogen feeding cancers.

Human studies into prostate cancer and increase walnut consumption have shown even stronger evidence of reduced risk.

Improved Blood Flow

Walnuts contain high amounts of l-arginine, an essential amino acid. L-arginine gets converted to nitric acid in the blood vessels and helps the blood vessels to relax. This reduces hypertension. These nutrients cause increased elasticity in arteries leading to improved blood flow.

Selecting Walnuts

Walnuts are available to buy all year round although they are harvested in December and tend to be available in bulk during this time. You can buy them already shelled or unshelled.

Unshelled walnuts should not have any cracks or damage to the shell. They should feel dry, hard, and quite heavy and not rattle. If they rattle, the walnut kernel inside is probably stale.

Avoid any that look shriveled and/or rubbery in texture.

They should be dry and free from any stains. Stained walnuts are a sign of mold and should be thrown away. If you can, give them a quick sniff. You will easily smell if one has gone rancid.

Storing Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in poly-unsaturated fat and so when the kernel is exposed to air they soon perish unless stored correctly.

Unshelled walnuts should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place. They will keep fresh up to around 6 months.

Shelled walnuts should be refrigerated, preferably in an air-tight container. They will keep for up to 6 months, or 12 months if frozen.

How To Add Walnuts To Your Diet

Walnuts are traditionally rolled out during the December holiday period and tend to be one of the few healthy foods readily available in households.

There are a great number of holiday recipes that call for walnuts and are a great way to make some desserts a little less unhealthy. It also has helped my children grow accustomed to the flavor of walnuts and embrace them in their foods regularly.

Walnuts add a satisfying crunch and interesting texture to yogurt or a fruit salad. By varying the texture and adding protein, I feel fuller longer and am more satisfied after a snack.

Other ways to add walnuts to your diet include tossing them in a bread stuffing recipe, adding them to green salads instead of croutons or using them in rice pilafs or risottos. There are endless dishes that walnuts can improve. Get creative!

Leave The Skin On

Many people don’t even notice or realize there is a skin on walnuts kernels. It can have a waxy or flaky appearance and a slightly bitter flavor which is why many recipes call for removing the skin. Don’t!

The skin of the walnut kernel should not be removed as it contains up to 90% of important, health promoting phenols. Also found in the skin are the majority of the tannins, and flavonoids.

Summary

A balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and nuts is essential for good health as well as preventing and treating a number of health conditions. If you want to add nuts to your daily diet – and you really should, you won’t get any better than walnuts.

As far as nuts go, they provide us with the greatest all-round health benefits and their high content of ‘good fats’ make them particularly good for maintaining a healthy heart.

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