Get a Little Nutty with Walnuts

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D. Founder

Recently, I decided to make banana bread and the recipe called for walnuts. So I went to my local market to purchase some, and ended up bringing home more than I needed for the recipe. I was always aware of the health benefits of nuts, in general, but never really explored all the benefits of walnuts. As a result, I did some research.

There are several varieties of the walnut, reportedly 37 in California where two-thirds of the world’s walnuts are produced. You may be familiar with Black and English walnuts.

And as I did more research on this delicious, sodium-free tree nut, I realized that I should make a greater effort to include walnuts in my diet. They may do wonders for my health, so I plan on adding them to cereals, salads and homemade muffins throughout the year. You can even add walnuts to smoothies for a rich, creamy texture and taste. And of course, eating them by the handful is easy and very satisfying.

So for today’s #MeatlessMonday, let’s explore together the potential benefits of these health gems. Remember, if you go meatless every Monday for a year (52 days total), you may reduce your risk for certain diseases including cancer, heart disease and more.

Walnuts may protect your heart.

Walnuts are very rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid), especially alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3s are important, because they are critical in keeping us healthy but the human body does not produce them. This is why we must consume these healthy fatty acids.

“With regard to walnuts, it must be underlined that they are a whole food with the highest content in ALA of all edible plants,” according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Omega-3s are anti-inflammatories that may help prevent damage to blood vessels that may lead to heart disease and stroke. The essential fatty acids in walnuts may also help lower blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol levels, lower heart rate and improve heart rhythm, decrease the risk of clotting, lower triglycerides (a type of fat found in blood) and help delay build up of plaque in the coronary arteries.  

Walnut may be great for the brain.

Omega-3s also play a crucial role in brain function and may increase the activity of the brain. If you can get your omega-3s along with adequate intake of the minerals selenium and iodine, you may help protect your brain from oxidative stress and free radical damage that may lead to disorders, like Alzheimer’s.  

Polyphenolic compounds [which are essentially antioxidants] found in walnuts not only reduce the oxidant and inflammatory load on brain cells but also improve interneuronal signaling, increase neurogenesis, and enhance sequestration of insoluble toxic protein aggregates,” according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Walnuts may help keep your bones strong.

The essential fatty acids in walnuts may also help keep the bones healthy by increasing calcium absorption and deposition and reducing urinary calcium excretion.

In addition to this, walnuts also contain the mineral manganese, a micronutrient that you only need in trace (small) amounts but is still a must have for good health. Manganese plays an important role in bone health, because it is involved in the formation of bones.  

Walnuts may promote good gut bacteria.

A study conducted by Louisiana State University suggested that eating walnuts may positively influence the bacteria makeup in the gut. In this study, researchers fed one group of mice a diet that included walnuts, while another group of mice consumed no walnuts at all.

“We found that walnuts in the diet increased the diversity of bacteria in the gut, and other non-related studies have associated less bacterial diversity with obesity and other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease,” said Dr. Lauri Byerley, one of the lead researchers of the study. “Walnuts increased several bacteria, like Lactobacillus, typically associated with probiotics suggesting walnuts may act as a prebiotic.”

Walnuts may improve sperm quality.

A 2012 study tested the hypothesis that 75 grams of whole-shelled walnuts per day added to the Western-style diet of healthy, young men would beneficially affect semen quality. Researchers examined 117 men, between the ages of 21-35. One group of the men incorporated walnuts into their diet, while the other group avoided walnuts and all other tree nuts. The men who ate walnuts had improved sperm vitality, motility, and morphology.

This was believed to be due to the fatty acids found in walnuts.

Walnuts may help prevent diabetes.

Another study found evidence that the consumption of walnuts may help reduce the risk of developing diabetes in a group of women. The women who consumed eight ounces or more of walnuts a month reduced their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes by 24%.

Researchers believe the fatty acids in walnuts favorably influence insulin resistance. Walnuts are also low in carbohydrates, which mean they will likely not cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin.

Walnuts may boost your mood.

Walnuts are rich in the mineral magnesium. Magnesium may decrease the risk of depression as well as reduce the severity of the symptoms of depression.

Walnuts may help with weight management.

The polyunsaturated fats in walnuts may activate genes that reduce fat storage. They are also rich in protein and fiber, which may help prevent hunger pangs and provide lasting energy.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the essential vitamins and minerals walnuts contain.

One cup of chopped English walnuts contains:

  • Calcium, 115 mg. Of course, calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Magnesium, 185 mg. Along with possibly boosting your mood, this mineral helps regulate blood pressure, contributes to bone metabolism and has antioxidant functions. Magnesium is also great for pain management. Many people use magnesium as a safe alternative to ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Magnesium may even help alleviate leg cramps women may experience during pregnancy.
  • Phosphorus, 405 mg. This mineral often does not get the credit it deserves, but it does so much for your body. Phosphorus is almost as abundant in your body as calcium and helps calcium build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus is also important for how your body stores and uses energy, repairs cells and is needed to make proteins like the one responsible for the oxygen-carrying capabilities of our red blood cells. This mineral has also been linked to weight management. In a study of almost 40,000 women in Korea, phosphorus deficiency was associated with weight gain from oral contraceptives. Furthermore, a study from Lebanon showed that phosphorus supplements in a small group (63 people) for 12 weeks was associated with a significant decrease in body weight, BMI, waist circumference and subjective appetite scores.
  • Potassium, 516 mg. Potassium may help lower blood pressure by balancing out negative effects of salt. According to Harvard Health, “[w]hen it comes to fighting high blood pressure, the average American diet delivers too much sodium and too little potassium. Eating to reverse this imbalance could prevent or control high blood pressure and translate into fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease.” 
  • Folate, 115 mcg. Most adults need about 400 mcg of folate daily. If you are pregnant, you may need more. Folate is essential for cell growth and many other bodily functions. To see how much folate you need, click here.
  • Choline, 49.5 mg. Choline was officially recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1998. “Because of its wide-ranging roles in human metabolism, from cell structure to neurotransmitter synthesis, choline-deficiency is now thought to have an impact on diseases such as liver disease, atherosclerosis and possibly neurological disorders,” according to the National Institutes for Health. 
  • Vitamin A, 23 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.

Keep in mind, the outermost layer of a shelled walnut has a whitish, flakey part that you may be tempted to remove. Avoid doing that, as this part of the walnut is full of antioxidants and beneficial compounds.

And if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it may be a good idea to steer clear of walnuts, which can be an allergen and cause complications. Talk to your doctor or a competent healthcare professional to determine the impact of diet changes on your body. And, of course, if you have a nut allergy, you should perhaps  avoid consuming walnuts. If you are allergic, you may experience rashes, swelling, nausea and diarrhea. If you are not sure, an allergy test will answer any unknowns about what foods you can and cannot eat.

Also keep in mind, although walnuts are rich in good fat they are still considered a high calorie food (765 calories in one cup of chopped walnuts). So it is important to enjoy these delicious nuts in moderation.

Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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