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Walnuts: Nutritional features and health benefits

Walnuts: Nutritional features and health benefits

Walnuts are very nutritious and popular all over the world, especially in the United States. The most common variety of Walnut is the English Walnut (Juglans Regia). Juglans Regia is the Latin name of the walnut and translates to ‘Jupiter’s royal acorn’ – Jupiter being the king of the gods in Roman mythology.

Historically originating from Persia, walnuts have been transplanted across the continents of Asia and Europe. Walnuts arrived on American shores in the 18th century and most of them are grown along the western coast of California. However, some are even grown in the Midwest. A type of walnut native to north America is the eastern black Walnut (Juglans Nigra).

This article will be focusing on the English Walnuts, also known as the Persian Walnuts. They are part of the Juglandaceae family and are commonly consumed as a nut. Walnuts are also known for their versatility as they can be added to baked goods, salads, soups, pastas, smoothies and more.

Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and have abundant levels of beneficial antioxidants. Benefits include but are not limited to, inflammation management, healthy gut promotion, cancer risk mitigation, heart and brain health promotion.

Nutritional composition of Walnuts

Walnuts have nutritional characteristics that are beneficial to the human body. A one ounce serving of walnuts, which is nearly 30 grams, and equates to 7 Walnuts, contains the following:

   Calories    185
   Fat    18.5 g (Monosaturated 2.5 g, Saturated 1.7 g)
   Protein    4.3 g
   Water    4%
   Carbs    3.9 g
   Fiber    1.9 g
   Sugar    0.7 g

This one serving is packed with minerals and vitamins, such as:

 

   Magnesium    (up to 14% of daily requirement)
   Iron    (up to 10% of daily requirement)
   Folate    (up to 7% of daily requirement)
   Potassium    (up to 5% of daily requirement)
   Calcium    (up to 3% of daily requirement)

Walnuts have beneficial antioxidants

Walnuts are very rich in antioxidants, containing more than many other nuts. This antioxidant activity helps prevent oxidative damage. A study of 16 healthy individuals discovered that consuming meals rich in walnuts resulted in the prevention of oxidative damage of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (National Library of Medicine, Jan 2014). 


Walnuts may reduce cancer risk

Incorporating healthy foods in a balanced diet may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, and walnuts are no exception this. There are enough studies to suggest that regular consumption of walnuts can help insure against health disorders, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. One such study indicated that “walnut tree constitute(s) an excellent source of effective natural antioxidants and chemopreventive agents” (National Library of Medicine, Jan 2010).

Further to the above statement, WebMD reports that bacteria found in the human stomach and intestine converts ellagic acid, which is found in walnuts, “into compounds with antioxidant power” that may help reduce the risk of cancer. Although, the report does mention more conclusive research is required to further solidify the hypothesis (WebMD, Aug 2019).


Walnuts may improve brain function

Including walnuts in a healthy balanced diet may improve the health of the human brain, especially in elderly people. A study showed a link between consumption of walnuts as part of a diet and better cognitive function in elderly subjects at high cardiovascular risk (National Library of Medicine).

Interestingly, walnuts also helped improve brain function in animals as well! This 2014 study studied mice with Alzheimer’s disease and how they showed a significant improvement in “memory, learning ability, anxiety, and motor development.” (National Library of Medicine, 2014)

The fact that walnuts look like a human brain was not lost in the subject of the above studies!


Walnut consumption may decrease inflammation

Consumption of walnuts may decrease inflammation, which is a major factor in diseases such as Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disorders, cancer and more. Walnuts contain polyphenol, a micronutrient that is packed with antioxidants that may help treat a multitude of health disorders, digestion problems and weight management issues. A study summarized the positive effects of walnut polyphenol in health maintenance and disease prevention. The study highlighted the role of Ellagitannins, a subgroup of polyphenols containing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory bioactivity, which help fight against cancer, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases (National Library of Medicine, Nov 2017).   


Walnuts may improve heart health

As with any medical condition, a healthy lifestyle comprising nutrition, exercises and diet can reduce the risk of those ailments. Walnuts have been associated with helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A combination of factors goes into reducing the risk such as walnuts lowering levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, a reduction in inflammation, and improvement of blood vessel function that reduces the risk of arteries being clogged up by plaque (National Library of Medicine, Jul 2018).


Walnut consumption promotes a healthy gut

A study of 194 healthy adults saw them improve their beneficial bacteria content after they consumed 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day over an eight-week test period. That consumption of 1.5 ounces of walnuts over eight weeks “significantly affects the gut microbiome by enhancing probiotic- and butyric acid-producing species in healthy individual”, the authors had found. This is important for the human body as healthy bacteria in the gut is pertinent for a healthy gut and overall general health of the body (National Library of Medicine, Feb 2018).

 


Walnuts may help in weight management

Incorporating walnuts in a healthy balanced diet can help people manage their body weight. This is because walnuts, like most other nuts, may help one feel full and satiated that leads to them having more control of their appetite.

A 2018 study established a connection between short-term walnut consumption and a control of appetite. A group of 10 obese individuals were given walnut smoothies (1.75 ounces) for five days and results showed a reduction in appetite. The study further found that a brain scan of these 10 individuals, after the study period, showed an increased activation of the right insula that decreased their desire for highly desirable foods (National Library of Medicine, Jan 2018).

 


Conclusion

Walnuts offer a multitude of benefits to the human body thank to their nutritional profile. Benefits include promotion of brain health, gut bacteria, reducing cancer and heart disorder risks, appetite control and more. Word of caution though, as they may cause reactions to those suffering from allergy symptoms.

All things said and done, walnuts can be easily incorporated into one’s diet as they are versatile in their consumption and can provide significant improvements in the overall health.


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