Ever notice that a walnut looks just like the human brain? According to ancient wisdom, this is more than just a coincidence. Considering one of the biggest benefits of walnuts nutrition is the ability to support your most important organ — the brain — walnuts have now been scientifically proven to be a true “brain food” and a leader among all nuts.
Walnuts can help improve your mood considering they contain one of the highest amounts of omega-3 fats of any nut. In addition to the remarkable things that omega-3 foods can do for your mind, they’re also known to support heart health and fight heart disease by lowering triglyceride levels and reducing dangerous plaque formation in the arteries.
And walnuts can be a great tool for weight management too. Did you know dieting can actually make you fat? But eating natural fat doesn’t! According to some studies, eating a few walnuts, about four to six halves, before meals decreases people’s perceived level of hunger and may cause people to eat less later in the day.
Walnuts Nutrition Facts
Would you believe walnuts have been providing crucial nutrients to humans for up to 8,000 years? A report on walnuts published in the American Journal of Nutrition states that “Compared to most other nuts, which contain monounsaturated fatty acids, walnuts are unique because they are rich in n-6 (linoleate) and n-3 (linolenate) polyunsaturated fatty acids. Walnuts contain multiple health-beneficial components, such as having a low lysine: arginine amino acid ratio and high levels of arginine, folate, fiber, tannins, and polyphenols.”
As you’ve probably noticed, one of the areas where walnuts nutrition shines most is the nut’s high supply of omega-3s benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are not only helpful for heart health and brain health, but also for controlling inflammation, improving circulation, memory, thought processing and blood sugar control.
The human species evolved on a diet that contained high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids — the kind found in wild fish like salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and wild game — and much less of the polyunsaturated fats called omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils, packaged foods, and some nuts and seeds.
In the past several centuries, we have gradually consumed more omega-6s, especially from vegetable oils, and on average much fewer omega-3 foods. Not surprisingly, at the same time heart disease, cognitive disorders and depression rates have gradually increased. Instead of the roughly ideal two-to-one, or even one-to-one, ratio of fats consumed by our ancient ancestors, today it’s believed that the average American eats 15 to 25 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3s!
Eating more walnuts as part of a healing diet can help to close this gap and prevent disease development; for example, walnuts nutrition benefits were praised in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease as providing a “significant improvement in memory, learning ability, anxiety, and motor development compared to the control diets without walnuts.”
In addition to omega-3s, walnuts (which have the scientific name Juglans regia L.) provide plenty of other noteworthy nutrients, too.
One ounce of walnuts, or about 14 halves, has about:
- 187 calories
- 5 grams fat
- 4 grams protein
- 2 grams fiber
- Less than 1 gram sugar
- 4 grams carbs
- 4 milligrams manganese (48 percent DV)
- 4 milligrams copper (22 percent DV)
- 45 milligrams magnesium (11 percent DV)
- 98 milligrams phosphorus (10 percent DV)
- 2 milligrams vitamin B6 (8 percent DV)
- 7 milligrams folate (7 percent DV)
- 1 milligram thiamine (6 percent DV)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Star of Walnut Nutrition
To be clear, the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, in addition to some other nuts and seeds like chia seeds and flaxseeds, is not the same kind of omega-3 found in fish like salmon. Most of the research on omega-3 fats that demonstrate such strong cardiovascular and brain-boosting benefits involve the two omega-3 fats that are found in fish: EPA and DHA.
The kind of omega-3 found in walnuts is called ALA , or alpha- linolenic acid. It’s believed that the body can make the preferred types, EPA and DHA, from the type found in walnuts (ALA), but it can’t necessarily do such a great job of this.
While ALA omega-3 fats from walnuts have plenty of health benefits — and walnuts themselves offer other nutrients, too –\— I personally recommend getting more omega-3s from wild-caught fish and also supplements when necessary. It’s a good idea to consume all three types of omega-3 fats for optimal benefits, which is why it’s important to vary your diet and eat a variety of different foods.
7 Health Benefits of Walnuts
1. Help Fight Depression
Omega-3 fats help to form the soft, fluid outer-lining of cells that gives them the ability to communicate with each other. This is crucial for allowing the movement of “feel-good” neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, to flow into and out of cells. Without enough of the right kinds of fats in your diet, neurotransmitter function suffers and many people feel the effects in rising feelings of anxiety, chronic stress, cravings, fatigue and mood swings. This is why fats are crucial for fighting depression and anxiety with nutrition.
There have been compelling population studies done linking the consumption of large amounts of omega-3 fats, usually in the form of wild fish in addition to certain nuts like walnuts, to lower rates of depression. Controlled clinical trials researching the effects of omega-3s in depression and heart disease prevention continue to be underway at a number of major research centers. It seems the more we find out about how these special fatty acids work, the more we realize that their benefits are impressive, yet most people are deficient and can’t afford to be.
2. Improve Brain Health and Preserve Memory
Walnuts are also a superfood that might slow aging. Walnuts’ omega-3 fats are also important for supporting memory and thought processing. Many of the same populations that suffer from higher incidences of depression due to a lack in essential omega-3s also fall victim to cognitive decline. This includes age-related conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments.
When researchers from the Department of Biochemistry and Neurology at the University of Karachi evaluated the effects of walnuts on learning and memory in mice, they found significant improvements in learning and memory of walnut-treated mice compared to controls. Mice given walnuts also exhibited a significant decrease in food intake, although this didn’t have negative effects on their normal development. An analysis of their brains showed enhanced neurotransmitter function, protection against damage and improvements in nerves controlling metabolism.
3. Improve Heart Health
There’s a strong connection between both higher nut and omega-3 consumption and improved heart health. According to many studies, walnuts nutrition benefits cardiovascular health by keeping arteries clear, improving circulation, balancing cholesterol levels and lowering disease-causing inflammation.
One 2012 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that walnut consumption has positive effects on lowering risks for metabolic syndrome, which is a precursor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
When researchers investigated the effects of 56 grams of daily walnut consumption on endothelial function and other biomarkers of cardiac risk in a population of overweight adults, they found significant improvements in heart health and endothelial function. The patients experienced improved blood flow, better insulin control and healthier blood pressure. Another benefit was that the patients did not gain weight on average despite eating a higher level of high-fat walnuts.
4. Can Help Prevent Cancer
Thanks to being a great anti-inflammatory food and the polyphenol antioxidants, walnuts nutrition benefits immune function and can help prevent cancer formation. Some research has shown walnuts are part of a diet that acts like a natural cancer treatment.
In 2013, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center investigated whether a standard mouse diet supplemented with walnuts reduced the establishment and growth of human prostate cancer cells. They found that the walnut-enriched diet reduced the number of tumors and the growth significantly and that the final average tumor size in the walnut-diet animals was roughly one-fourth the average size of the prostate tumors in the mice that ate the control diet!
5. Make a Filling Snack and Support Weight Loss
Walnuts effectively help alleviate hunger and are naturally nutrient-dense, meaning you consume many essential vitamins, minerals and fats when you eat them, but all for a relatively small percentage of your daily calories. Walnuts have compounds that burn belly fat, since they’re chock-full of fatty acids and some protein, too, both of which help make you feel full. This is important for curbing food cravings, especially for things like sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Though walnuts are calorie-dense, clinical dietary intervention studies show that walnut consumption doesn’t cause a net gain in body weight when eaten as a replacement food. When you’re lacking in fatty acids, protein, fiber or other essential nutrients found in walnuts, it’s much harder for the body to stay at a steady weight, control blood sugar levels, regulate insulin and appetite, and balance cholesterol.
While sugary snacks can be thought of as metabolism death foods, a one-ounce serving of walnuts, or about a fourth of a cup, eaten between or with meals can help balance blood sugar, improve cognitive function and stop you from overeating later on. Keep in mind that walnuts act like a natural appetite-controller, but it might be best to try subbing in walnuts for some other high-fat foods that aren’t providing you as many benefits — for example, processed lunch meats and vegetable oils.
6. Improve Reproductive Health and Aid in Growth and Development
Walnuts are nutrient-rich in essential minerals: They have protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and potassium. So if you have low potassium, for instance, walnuts can bring your levels back up. In fact, all of these are crucial for a developing brain and body, so pregnant women, new mothers and young children (once they’re able to safely tolerate nuts) are all encouraged to enjoy walnuts regularly.
Manganese found in walnuts, for example, is an important essential mineral for growth, reproductive health, wound healing and brain development. It’s also needed to maintain a healthy metabolism and to digest and utilize carbohydrates from food that support muscle and tissue growth.
7. Great Way to Increase Children’s Omega-3s
Many health experts recommend giving walnuts to kids as a brain-boosting, nutritious snack. They might also be a natural remedy for ADHD and other developmental problems. Several studies have demonstrated greater attention, reduction in behavioral problems and less ADHD-related symptoms in school children when they’re taking omega-3 fat supplements or consuming plenty of omega-3s from foods.
Considering it’s hard to get many children to eat wild-caught fish on a regular basis, finding ways to sneak some walnuts into their meals is a great way to give them omega-3s naturally that support their physical and mental health.
History of Walnuts
Walnuts grow on large trees that are native to Asia, stretching from the Balkans to China. The largest forests where walnut trees grow can be found in the Jalal-Abad province of Kyrgyzstan. Records show that walnut cultivation dates back at least to Babylon (now present-day Iraq) circa 2000 B.C. But other archaeological evidence found in Neolithic sites in France suggest that walnuts were being eaten in Europe at least 8,000 years ago!
Walnuts nutrition benefits have been known since the beginning of written history. Selective breeding of walnuts stems back to the Ancient Greeks. The walnut tree was cultivated across Europe and parts of North Africa by the Ancient Greeks and Romans prior to the the Middle Ages.
It then spread to England and to North America, which is when they were given the name “English Walnuts.” Today, the largest producers of walnuts are China, Iran and the U.S. Technically, a walnut is the nut of any tree of the genus Juglans, of the plant family Juglandaceae. This mostly includes the Persian or English walnut trees, which provide most of the world’s edible walnuts.
Walnuts are edible after ripening and being removed from their outer shells. The hard outer shell encloses the walnut, which is really the plant’s kernel or “meat.” A walnut kernel is usually made up of two halves separated by a partition. Ready-t0-eat walnuts are already shelled and removed from their hard coats that are actually high in nutrients, too, and contain antioxidants.
How to Buy and Use Walnuts
There are two common kinds of walnuts: the English walnut, which ironically comes from California, and the black walnut, which is native to America. The two different kinds vary somewhat in terms of their nutritional profile, with the English walnut having slightly less protein and more fat, but both are still great options.
It’s recommended that you purchase walnuts in their shell and then crack them open yourself just prior to using them. If you can find whole walnuts that haven’t already been de-shelled, stock up on them since they last a while and will be fresher once you do decide to eat them. If not, you can still obtain plenty of benefits from walnuts nutrition by buying shelled whole walnut halves. Just make sure their flesh is white rather than yellow.
Since a yellow flesh can indicate that the walnuts have gone rancid, this will tell you they have lost some of their nutrients. Also keep in mind that organic walnuts tend to have darker brown shells and their color will vary depending on how much sun the walnut tree branches grew in. Brown coloring on walnuts is not an issue or something to worry about; just avoid yellow spots.
Recipes with Walnuts
This raw walnut tacos recipe is absolutely delicious. It’s full of healthy fats, fiber and manganese. Try this easy-to-make, healthy, raw recipe today!
Total Time: 5 minutes Serves: 2
- 1 1/2 cup raw walnuts, ground in food processor
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon coriander
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- Bibb lettuce
Mix all ingredients in food processor and pulse into a coarse mixture. Serve in lettuce.
- Mango Walnut Spinach Salad Recipe — This Mango Walnut Spinach Salad recipe is refreshing, fruity and delicious! It’s a filling, great start to any meal or a great snack.
- Raw Brownie Bites Recipe — perfect for when you or your little ones want a snack with some sweetness that’s also healthy and kind of filling, so it doesn’t just propel nonstop munching. It’s why this is the perfect snack! It’s delicious, healthy, easy to make and a favorite of kids. Grab them when you’re on the run today.
- Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Recipe — This squash “noodle,” walnuts and raisins recipe is healthy, easy to make and delicious. It’s also grain-free, filling and low in carbs.
Concerns with Eating Walnuts
Walnuts contain a low level of anti-nutrients, like all nuts. To make them more digestible and get even more benefits from walnuts nutrition, you can soak them overnight, then discard the water. If you’d like, you can also sprout the walnuts, which further increases absorption of their minerals.
Walnuts, like other tree nuts, must be processed and stored properly so they don’t spoil and become rancid. Poor storage in moist and hot places can make the fatty acids in walnuts go bad, leading them to be susceptible to insects and fungal mold infestations. These have the potential to cause growth of aflatoxins, which are carcinogens and shouldn’t be consumed in high amounts. So if you ever see mold growing on your walnuts, be careful to throw them out.