Walnuts: Health Benefits and Nutrition Facts
These wrinkly lobes surely are popular and versatile! Walnuts have a long history as food, having been around from as far back as 7,000 B.C., and were popular as food for the royals in ancient Persia. Nowadays, the US is a major producer of walnuts, with the bulk of the nuts coming from the state of California. Among all nuts, walnuts pack significantly higher amount omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)! They are rich in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and antioxidants such as Vitamin E. Indeed, walnuts are one of the best plant sources of protein!
Health Benefits of Walnuts
1. Lower Cholesterol
More than a decade of scientific evidence shows that incorporating walnuts in a healthy diet reduces the risk of heart disease by improving blood vessel elasticity and plaque accumulation. Walnuts have also been shown to aid in the lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and the C-Reactive Protein (CRP). CRP has been recognized as an independent marker and predictor of heart disease. A recent 2022 study from Spain found adults eating walnuts a daily basis seen a significant drop of LDL levels.
2. Improve Blood Flow in People with Diabetes
A study published in Diabetes Care in 2010 found that 2 ounces of walnuts per day improve blood flow and artery flexibility in people with type 2 diabetes. A previous 2004 study also found that a daily consumption of 30 g of walnuts (~1 ounce) help type 2 diabetes patients lower their LDL cholesterol by 10%.
3. Improve Gut Microbiome and Promote a Healthy Gut
The unique combination of fiber and antioxidants in walnuts may also improve gut microbiome. German researchers published their study in 2018, showing that a 8-week daily consumption of 43 g of walnuts (~1 1/2 ounce) increased the good bacteria (Ruminococcaceae and Bifidobacteria species) and suppressed the bad bacteria in large intestines.
Nutrition Facts of Walnuts
1 oz (14 halves) of shelled whole walnuts provides:
- Calories: 185 kcal
- Fat: 18 g
- Total Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: 13.4 g
- ALA: 2.6 g
- Total Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: 13.4 g
- Protein: 4.3 g
- Total Carbohydrate: 3.9 g
- Fiber: 1.9 g
- Net Carb: 2 g
- Glycemic Index: 15 (Low)
FDA Approved Health Claim for Walnuts
In 2003, the FDA recognized the benefits of nuts and their role in heart disease prevention by approving a health claim for 7 kinds of nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts). These seven nuts were approved as they are the only kinds that contain less than 4 grams of saturated fats per 50 grams.
In response to a petition filed by the California Walnut Commission, the FDA further endorsed the health benefits of walnuts by approving the following health claim in March 2004.
“Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 oz of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.“
Adding Walnuts in a Healthy Diet
Nuts in general are higher in calories. The best approach is to reap the health benefits of eating walnuts but not add extra calories to your daily intake. Therefore, instead of just adding walnuts to your current diet, eat them in replacement of foods that are high in saturated fats (such as cheese and meat) and limit your intake of these tasty treats to the recommended 1.5 oz per day. That is about 20 walnut halves.
Walnuts add a flavorful crunch to dishes. Here are some simple ideas to incorporate walnuts in your diet to reap their health benefits:
- instead of snacking on cookies, crack some walnuts open and eat them as snacks
- instead of using meat, toss toasted walnuts in your salad or pasta to add some crunch
- instead of layering pepperoni, use chopped walnuts in your pizza
- instead of eating bacons or eggs, use walnuts as a protein choice by sprinkling chopped walnuts in your oatmeal or breakfast cereal
Alumni: University of British Columbia – Gloria Tsang is the author of 6 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.