Although they may not win any beauty contests, walnuts really are topping the health charts lately. Yet more positive research this week revealed that walnuts possess remarkable protective powers against cardiovascular disease. It seems this nobbly morsel really is worth getting nutty over. So add walnuts to your shopping list now, and your body will thank you sooner than you think.
The science behind walnuts
The latest research on the link between walnuts and heart disease comes from scientists from Penn State University in Pennsylvania. They found ‘significant’ improvements in volunteers’ cholesterol levels just four hours after consuming the nut. Fifteen participants with high cholesterol levels consumed one of the following: six grams of walnut skin; two handfuls of shelled walnut, 34g of nutmeat with the fat removed or three tablespoons of walnut oil. Responses were checked after 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, four hours and six hours. The results showed that volunteers who consumed the oil , either as liquid or in the shelled nuts, strengthened their blood vessels within four hours. This has big implications for fighting heart disease, which now causes more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK and is the world’s biggest killer.
The study discovered it is the walnut oil which is particularly effective at maintaining the flexibility and function of endothelial cells, which line the blood cells throughout our body. This ensures that blood flows to and from our heart effectively. Although it was previously known that walnuts benefit cholesterol levels, it wasn’t known which component of the walnut provided the benefit. Nor was it known that just a one-time consumption would provide benefits so rapidly.
According to Dr Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of Nutrition at the University, you only need to consume a small amount of walnuts to make a big difference. “Eating shelled walnuts or some walnut oil four times a week will certainly provide very significant benefits. Just a handful could help significantly reduce the risk of heart disease”. This is confirmed by other research which suggests it only takes about seven walnuts each day to reap the benefits.
Walnut is the ‘top-nut’ for nutrition
Although all nuts are a highly nutritious snack, walnuts appear to be the ‘super nut’, providing the greatest health benefits .This is because they are so incredibly rich in nutrients. Raw walnuts contain antioxidants 15 times more powerful than Vitamin E, high levels of fibre and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Packed full of many B-complex vitamins including niacin, B6 pantothenic acid, walnuts are also rich sources of minerals such potassium, manganese, zinc, selenium, copper and iron. The oil itself , as well as being the powerful component to help heart disease, is also used as an effective tonic for dry skin conditions.
Scientists have also recently discovered walnuts contain the most polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant, out of a list of nine other nuts. This also included walnuts which had been roasted and combined with other nuts. The next most beneficial nuts on the list were brazil nuts and pistachios, with pecans, peanuts, almonds, macadamias, cashews and hazelnuts following behind.
Their health-giving properties means that walnuts can help prevent many chronic conditions and diseases. A large 2012 Boston study showed that snacking on small amounts of walnuts could help prevent type 2 diabetes. The research found that women eating a 28 gram of walnuts twice a week or more were a quarter less likely to develop the disease which is becoming a global epidemic.
Walnuts’ rich fatty acid content and powerful phyto-chemical compounds also help act against inflammation in the body thereby reducing the risk of arthritis, high blood pressure and various cancers, as well as slowing the onset of ageing. Research also shows that walnuts can increase the sperm count of young men who eat walnuts every day.
Walnut fat is good for you!
Anyone concerned about the high fat and calorie content of walnuts should take heed of the health benefits and not completely avoid nuts. Remember, the fats in walnuts are the beneficial polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats, not the unhealthy artery-clogging fats. It may also help to know that nuts in general have been linked to a lower risk of obesity. The research from Louisiana State University found that those who ate 1.5 ounces of nuts every day had smaller waists, lower BMI and lower body weight, than non-nut consumers. The FDA have followed this up with an official recommendation for people to consume 1.5 ounces of nuts every day, with walnuts the most nutritious choice. The only challenge will now be stopping after eating the recommended amount!
How to enjoy walnuts
The easiest way to enjoy walnuts is simply grabbing a handful as a snack, perhaps with some dried fruit for extra variety and interest. They also make a delicious addition to salad and stir-fries, and go particularly well with cheese, cabbages and apples. However you choose to eat them, make sure you don’t just save them for Christmas!
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