Walnuts: Nutrition and Health Benefits

Walnuts: Nutrition and Health Benefits

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Nuts are considered some of the healthiest food sources in the world. Rich in antioxidants, protein, and fibre, they are good for your heart – and your weight too.

One of the more popular varieties is the walnut, a tree nut bore by the plant Juglans regia. Eaten alone as a snack or as an ingredient in walnut recipes, these nuts come with great health benefits – thus making them some of the more popular nut variants in the world.

All About Walnuts

Walnuts are considered the oldest known tree food. Touted by the Romans as “Jupiter’s Royal Acorn” walnuts have been eaten as early as 7,000 BC.

The common walnut, which is also known as the English walnut, can trace its lineage back to Persia. Here, they were reserved solely for the consumption of the royals – which lends its other name ‘Persian walnut’. The worldwide popularity of walnuts eventually grew, many thanks to the silk road trade that brought the nuts to various parts of the globe.

Today, most of the world’s walnuts come from California, where it was first cultivated in the 1700s. The first product was called mission walnuts, which are smaller in size. Various improvements have led to the production of bigger California walnuts, which now comprise ¾ of the world walnut trade.

This drupe is also used to create walnut oil, which comes with a delicate taste and nutty quality. It’s often used in salad dressing and certain pan-fried dishes. Because of its expensive price, it’s not largely used as other types of vegetable oils.

Walnut Nutrition Facts

1 package (50 grams) of walnuts contains the following nutrients:

  • Energy – 327 kcal
  • Protein – 7.62 grams
  • Dietary Fibre – 3.35 grams
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids – 4.47 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids – 23.6 grams
  • Potassium – 220 milligrams
  • Phosphorous – 173 milligrams
  • Magnesium – 79 milligrams
  • Calcium – 49 milligrams
  • Choline – 19.6 milligrams
  • Zinc – 1.54 milligrams
  • Iron – 1.46 milligrams

What are Walnuts’ Benefits for the Body?

There are so many reasons why you should add walnuts to your diet. After all, the benefits of eating walnuts are plentiful:

Health Benefits of Walnuts - The Giving Nature

1. Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease or CVD refers to problems that affect the heart and the blood vessels. This usually occurs because of the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries – a condition known as atherosclerosis.

More than just increasing one’s risk of suffering from fatal blood clots, CVD can damage the vessels in the brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes as well.

CVD is usually caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, excess weight, and a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include an unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diabetes.

Family history plays a role in heart disease as well. According to the NHS, CVD is more common in UK citizens with South Asian, African, and Caribbean backgrounds. These individuals tend to have high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which are known risks for heart disease.

Walnut Benefits for the Heart

A healthy lifestyle is key to lowering one’s CVD risk. The NHS recommends consuming a balanced diet – one that is low in saturated fat, salt, & sugar, and high in fibre. Fortunately, you could meet all of these specifications with walnuts and diet.

Such benefits were seen in the study of Kris-Etherton, who ran an analysis of over two decades’ worth of walnut studies. Results showed that walnut daily intake can combat the two major risk factors for CVD. First, it can help decrease low-density lipoprotein – the bad cholesterol that builds up in your arteries – by 9 to 16%. Second, it can help lower diastolic blood pressure by 2-3 mm Hg.

According to the same study, walnuts can help improve blood vessel function as well. This can further reduce one’s risk of developing fatty deposits in the arteries.

As per Feldman, walnuts are energy-rich sources that don’t lead to weight gain when eaten as a replacement food. This is also vital for heart health, as maintaining the right weight can help minimize the person’s risk of developing CVD.

2. Brain Health

Brain disorders such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are linked with inflammation and oxidative stress. These can result be brought about by several factors, including an unhealthy diet, smoking, lack of exercise, and exposure to toxins.

MCI is characterized as the stage between ageing-related cognitive decline and dementia. This results in memory, thinking, judgement, and language problems.

AD, on the other hand, is the most common form of dementia. Here, the presence of amyloid-beta protein can lead to inflammation and the accumulation of free radicals in the brain. As a result, the brain cells degenerate and die.

Walnut Benefits for the Brain

The best way to prevent neurodegenerative disorders is to eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative substances. Walnuts prove to be one of the best sources for these as they are rich in phytochemicals and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

According to Poulouse et al., the walnut benefits for the brain include improved brain cell creation (neurogenesis) and better signalling between neurones.

Walnuts’ other positive effects on the brain were also noted in the study of Chauhan and Chauhan. Here, regular walnut consumption helped improve the memory and learning of mice subjects. It paved the way for better motor coordination and locomotor activity as well. Add to that, walnuts in the diet also helped decrease anxiety.

With these results, walnuts may help slow the risk and progression of both MCI and AD. It may even help delay the development of other related brain conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.

3. Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease wherein a person’s sugar levels get way too high. There are 2 main types of diabetes, with type 2 diabetes affecting as much as 90% of UK adults. It occurs when the body is not able to produce enough insulin – or when the cells do not react to the effects of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors include:

  • Age and Ethnicity. Risk increases for people of South Asian, African-Caribbean, and Black-African descent at age 25 and above. For whites, the risk is higher for those aged 40 and above.
  • Family history. Those with diabetic parents or siblings are two to six times more likely to have diabetes type 2.
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess weight, especially around the torso

Other risk factors include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, lack of/excessive sleep, alcohol consumption, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Certain mental conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia may increase one’s diabetes risk as well.

Walnut Benefits for Diabetes

Making positive lifestyle changes is one of the best ways to reduce diabetes risk. This includes eating well and moving more to lose weight.

That being said, adding walnuts to your daily intake may help cut down your risk. Such walnut benefits were seen in a study that pooled info from the year 1999 to 2014. Results showed that walnut eaters had a lower diabetes risk compared to non-nut consumers. This was seen in their low fasting blood and Haemoglobin a1c levels.

The effects were directly proportional too. With every increase in walnut intake, diabetes prevalence can go down by as much as 47%.

These health benefits of walnuts were also seen in the study of Pan et al. Here, a total of 5,930 women with type 2 diabetes were followed up in a span of 10 years. Research showed that those who ate more than 2 servings a week – and 1-3 servings a month – have lower diabetes risks compared to those who never/rarely ate nuts.

4. Cancer

Cancer occurs when cells divide and proliferate in an uncontrolled manner. This results in an abnormal growth known as a tumour.

In the UK, cancers are quite prevalent. According to Cancer Research UK, one in two people in the UK will develop a tumour in his/her lifetime. Annually, this equates to about 367,000 new cases – or 1,000 diagnoses every day.

The most common cancers in the UK – accounting for 53% of the cases – involve the breast, prostate, lung, and bowel.

Walnut Benefits for Cancer

The benefits of walnuts may be good for people with cancer – and those at-risk too. According to Hardman, this may be due to the presence of walnut biochemicals that have cancer-fighting properties. These include omega-3 fatty acids, tocopherols, pedunculagin, and beta-sitosterol.

The study, which was done on mice, demonstrated the following results:

  • A diet containing walnut reduced the growth rate of breast cancers by as much as 80% in nude mice and about 60% in transgenic mice.
  • The reduction in mammary gland tumours was greater in mice that ate a walnut-rich diet, compared to those who had a diet containing a similar amount of fatty acids.
  • Walnuts helped slow renal, colon, and prostate cancer growth by inhibiting cell proliferation. It also helped stop the creation of blood vessels that supply tumours with nutrients.

Walnut benefits also go beyond the nut, as walnut oil appears to have the same effects against cancer. In another study, researchers fed mice with prostate cancer with 100 grams of walnuts, walnut oil, or walnut-like fat.

After 18 weeks, those who ate walnuts and walnut oil demonstrated decreased tumour sizes. Apart from this, these mice also enjoyed other walnut health benefits such as lower cholesterol levels and better insulin sensitivity.

With this nut aiding the most common cancers in the UK (breast, bowel, and prostate), the many walnut benefits for men and women may hold the key towards improving national health.

5. Skin Health

Oxidative stress affects many parts of the body, most notably the skin. This can result from exposure to pollution, pesticides, UV radiation, alcohol, and smoke. Fatty & sugary diets and obesity contribute to oxidation as well.

Due to the increased amounts of oxidants, the skin ends up developing inflammation. This then leads to collagen fragmentation and a disturbance in skin cell functions. The result is saggy, prematurely-aged skin – and cancer in some cases.

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Walnut Benefits for the Skin

To fight oxidative stress, the body needs a rich source of antioxidants – substances that are widely found in walnuts. These include Vitamin E, Melatonin, and Polyphenols.

Vitamin E helps absorb UV light, which makes it helpful for defending the skin from UV-related free radical damage. It also helps prevent the inflammation that can adversely affect skin health.

Like Vitamin E, melatonin is a potent antioxidant that helps minimize sun-induced skin damage. Similarly, it may help reduce the signs of skin ageing.

Polyphenols, on the other hand, are walnut phytochemicals that offer various benefits for the skin. According to Menaa et al., this antioxidant also helps protect the skin from sun damage. As a result, it may help prevent skin ageing, inflammatory skin diseases, even cancer.

6. Hair Health

A poor diet can adversely affect your hair. Without the proper nutrients, your locks may be more prone to damage, breakage, and shedding.

Walnut Benefits for the Hair

Your tresses need several nutrients to support healthy growth. Fortunately, you can have these with the many benefits of walnuts for the hair.

For one, walnuts are rich in protein – the very substance found in hair follicles. Your tresses need a continuous supply of protein to prevent shedding.

Walnuts are also teeming with omega-3 fatty acids, substances that help nourish the hair. Apart from supporting mane growth, omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent the onset of inflammatory hair disorders as well.

Iron and zinc, which are vital for hair health, are found in walnuts as well. That being said, eating vegetarian walnut recipes are sure to do your hair good.

How Many Walnuts Should You Eat in a Day?

How Many Walnuts Should You Eat in a Day?

According to RxList, the recommended walnut daily intake is 8 to 11 pieces every day. This equates to ¼ to ½ cup or 35-56 grams of walnuts every day.

It’s best to avoid eating walnuts alongside other fat sources as this may lead to unintended weight gain.

Walnut Side Effects

With the delicious taste and many health benefits of walnuts, you may find it hard to limit your daily consumption. However, it’s best that you do. By doing so, you get to avoid the following side effects:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Bloating
  • Softened stools
  • Weight gain, if other fat sources are not removed from the present diet

How to Store Walnuts

Before you make delicious and healthy walnut recipes, you need to store the nuts properly. The ideal temperature for storage is −3 to 0 °C or 27 to 32 °F (freezer). If you can’t meet this requirement, the next best alternative is to store the walnuts in an area with low humidity. The temperature should be at least 25 °C (77 °F).

It’s important to maintain the temperatures stated above. Storing the walnuts in a humid place – with a temperature of 30 °C (86 °F) – can lead to rapid spoilage.

More importantly, make sure to avoid keeping walnuts in a place with 75% humidity. This can lead to the development of fungal moulds that release a dangerous substance known as aflatoxin.

Before using your nuts for vegetarian walnut recipes, smell the walnuts first. They should have a sweet, mild, and nutty scent. If they smell like paint thinner, it means that the nuts have already turned rancid – it’s time to throw them away.

For best results, chop or shell walnuts only when you’re ready to use them. This will help maintain the nuts’ rich flavour.

Walnut Recipes

If you’re looking to enjoy the many health benefits of walnuts deliciously, then make sure to try any of these walnut recipes:

1. Walnut Corn and Potato Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 ribs chopped celery
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup organic corn
  • ¾ cup celery salt
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ cup creamed California walnuts
  • Himalayan salt
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • Chopped chives

Instructions:

  1. Put a large saucepan with oil over low heat. Sauté the garlic and onion for 3 minutes. Add celery and sauté for another 2 minutes.
  2. Pour in the vegetable broth, vinegar, corn, celery salt, potato, bell pepper, and smoked paprika. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes soften.
  3. Mix in the creamed walnuts and add a dash of salt and pepper. Serve with chive garnish.

2. Walnut Meat Empanadas

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ cup diced green peppers
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup sliced green olives
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 12/24 empanada skins
  • Egg wash

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté peppers, onion, and garlic for 3 minutes.
  2. Add cumin, walnuts, apple cider vinegar, tomato sauce, olives, raisins, and capers. Sauté for another 4 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400OF and line the baking sheet.
  4. Fill the empanada skins with 2 tbsps (smaller skins) or ¼ cup (larger skins) of filling. Fold and enclose and brush with egg wash.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with chimichurri.
Walnut Recipes - The Giving Nature

3. Healthy Walnut Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 2 cups coconut sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup walnut oil
  • 4 eggs with whites and yolks separated
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp Himalayan salt
  • 7 oz  yoghurt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350OF.
  2. Combine walnuts and sugar in the food processor until you get a fine, powdery texture.
  3. Add flour, salt, and baking powder to the walnut powder. Put aside.
  4. Beat the egg yolks and add walnut oil. Once this has emulsified, mix in the yoghurt.
  5. In another bowl, beat the egg whites. Once soft peaks form, set the whites aside.
  6. Add the emulsified egg yolks to the walnut powder mixture. Fold the egg whites gently.
  7. Pour the batter into a greased and floured cake pan.
  8. Bake the cake for 35 to 45 minutes.
  9. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

4. Healthy Banana Walnut Cake Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 3 overripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cups brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup rolled oats (gluten-free)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350OF. Grease and flour the baking pan. Set this aside for later.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients (banana to vanilla extract).
  3. Fold in the dry ingredients (brown rice flour to baking powder) and mix until smooth.
  4. Transfer the batter to the baking pan. Sprinkle with rolled oats if desired.
  5. Bake the banana walnut cake recipe UK for 50 to 55 minutes.
  6. Cool for 20 minutes before serving.

5. Strawberry, Banana, and Walnut Oats

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz fresh strawberries
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 3 cups rolled oats (gluten-free)
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 cups almond milk
  • 2 tbsp agave syrup

Instructions:

  1. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.
  2. Process the bananas and strawberries until they are liquefied.
  3. Mix the liquefied fruits, milk, syrup, and dry ingredients.
  4. Cover the mixture and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Serve with fresh fruit or chopped nuts.

Conclusion

Walnuts come from the Juglans regia tree. Also known as English or Persian walnut, it has been cultivated since 7,000 years ago.

Each walnut serving is rich in protein, fibre, healthy fatty acids, among many other nutrients.

With its rich health content, walnuts offer a lot of benefits for the body. For one, regular consumption may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Both of these are pivotal for reducing heart disease risk.

Walnuts may benefit the brain as well. According to expert studies, regular consumption may help slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Adding walnuts to your diet may help reduce your type 2 diabetes risk too. It may help lower specific markers such as fasting blood glucose and Haemoglobin a1c.

Walnut benefits cancer patients and at-risk individuals too. Mice studies show that regular consumption may help reduce tumour sizes in breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

Walnuts are good for the skin and hair as well. It may help protect the skin from free radicals that cause premature skin ageing and other inflammatory skin diseases. Its protein and omega 3-fatty acid content, on the other hand, may help promote hair health.

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Luiz Presso
Luiz Presso