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The Hidden Health Benefits of Walnuts

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Nutritionists and other health experts have been praising the virtues of nuts for many years. In recent health news, walnuts have risen to the top of the pack. Walnuts are the new star of the nutrition world because of numerous scientific studies showing how much they can benefit your health. They promote cardiovascular health by making your arteries more flexible and by increasing blood flow. They help prevent weight gain when eaten in reasonable quantities. Eaten before bedtime, walnuts can help you get a better night’s sleep, thanks to the hormone melatonin. Walnuts have even been recently proven to prevent the formation of gallstones and certain cancers and to restrict the growth of tumors. These are just a few of the reasons why it’s about time you learned more about this little miracle nut and integrated it into your family’s diet.

Nutrition Facts

First, let’s talk about the basics of walnuts. One ounce, which is a reasonable serving size, about one quarter cup, contains 183 calories. That is a lot of energy! Like other nuts, walnuts are very calorie-dense. You cannot eat cups of nuts each day without putting on weight. Although they are very good for you, walnut intake must be limited because of the high amount of calories.

One ounce of walnuts has eighteen grams of fat, four grams of carbohydrates, and four grams of protein. The fat number seems pretty serious, but fret not, because most of that fat is unsaturated. Only two grams are of the unhealthy, saturated variety. The four grams of carbohydrates can be broken down into two grams of fiber, one gram of sugar, and one gram of other carbohydrates. The serving of walnuts has no cholesterol and just one milligram of sodium. If cholesterol or high blood pressure are issues for you, this is extremely good news!

As for nutrients, your one-quarter cup of walnuts contains eleven percent of your daily need for magnesium, five percent of the iron, eight percent of the vitamin B6, seven percent of the folic acid, six percent of the thiamin, six percent of the zinc, twenty-two percent of the copper, and a whopping forty-eight percent of the manganese you need each day. Many other vitamins and minerals are present in smaller amounts.

Benefits of Eating Walnuts

Research on the nutritional benefits of nuts has discovered many, many reasons to get more of them in your diet. Walnuts, in particular, have been shown to have multiple health benefits.

Here is why you should be adding walnuts to your and your family’s diets:

  • They protect your arteries and heart. Some of the fats that are in that sizable measurement of eighteen grams per ounce are the very healthful alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Studies have shown that after a high-fat meal, walnuts can help to improve the functioning of arteries. They have also shown that walnuts may be even more beneficial in this way than olive oil. In a direct comparison of the two, participants eating walnuts with a fatty meal had measurably greater blood flow than those who did not. Other studies have found that eating walnuts makes arteries more elastic, which helps blood flow, lowers cholesterol, and reduces the hardening of arteries that leads to heart disease.
  • They prevent gallstones. Another study collected twenty years’ worth of data on thousands of women. The researchers found that women who ate at least one ounce of nuts every week had a 25 percent lower risk of getting producing gallstones.
  • They help you sleep better. Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces to help you fall asleep and sleep consistently. Supplemental melatonin has long been known to help people sleep better and is especially important as we age. Over the age of forty, the amount of melatonin your body produces drops. Melatonin has been found in walnuts in a bio-available form. That means the compound is easy to absorb from eating walnuts. A study found that when people eat walnuts, the amount of melatonin in the bloodstream triples.
  • They protect your bones. The omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid found in walnuts is known to promote bone health.  Bone loss can occur when you do not consume the proper ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Most people don’t get the right ratio because they consume more of the omega-6 fats. Eating walnuts can provide the necessary omega-3 fats and prevent the turnover of bone matter.
  • They can help you prevent weight gain. Walnuts are very high in calories, which means their consumption should be limited. However, many people sidestep them altogether because they believe the high amount of calories, even in moderation, will cause weight gain. In fact, the opposite is true. Studies have shown that people who eat nuts at least two times per week are much less likely to gain weight than people who never eat nuts.
  • They can protect you from cancer. There are high amounts of antioxidant compounds found in walnuts. These compounds help to prevent cancer by repairing damage in your cells. Numerous studies have found that certain compounds in walnuts can prevent or even fight breast, lung, and prostate cancers. Other studies have found that when people and lab animals with cancer eat walnuts, their tumors shrink in size. In some cases, the growth of tumors were slowed by as much as half.

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  • They can help combat type-2 diabetes. A study found that patients with diabetes mellitus (type 2) who consumed two ounces of walnuts a day for eight weeks had lowered A1C (blood glucose).

As miraculous as walnuts sound, they are just one part of a healthy diet. You cannot expect to get great benefits by eating largely foods that are bad for you and throwing in a handful of walnuts every day. You must add walnuts to an otherwise healthy diet to have overall good health.

Easy Ways to Eat More

Considering all of the wonderful health benefits of eating walnuts, it would behoove you to get them into your diet. Remember, though, not to go overboard. If you add an ounce of walnuts to your daily diet without removing something else, you will be eating 1,200 extra calories every week! The best way to get the benefits of walnuts is to replace other calories sources with these powerhouse nuts.

Breakfast is a great meal for walnuts. If you eat oatmeal, sprinkle some on top. If you eat cold cereal or yogurt, do the same. Replace your daily piece of toast with one ounce of walnuts, so as not to overdo your calories.

Trail mix is a great place to hide walnuts. Eating a handful of walnuts plain is not very exciting. Make your own trail mix with walnuts as one component instead of reaching for a granola bar.

Salads are very tasty with walnuts. Replace one of your usual fat and calorie-laden (not to mention high in glycemic index) salad toppings with a little oil and vinegar and a small handful of walnuts.

Dessert. Yes, dessert! Walnuts are often left out of dessert recipes. When something you are making calls for pecans, for instance, walnuts are a healthier substitute. Banana walnut muffins, walnut bread, walnut pie, walnuts sprinkled on your favorite ice cream… Some of them may sound odd, but try them. You might love them!

Harvest Walnuts

What if you have walnut trees on your property? Can you harvest and eat them? Absolutely! Most likely you have black walnut trees, which produce delicious nuts. If you have seen what look like tennis balls on the ground in the fall, you have walnuts. Collect walnuts from the ground in the fall and remove the nut from the green husk. This is often easier said than done. Many people have come up with myriad interesting ways to do this. One, which is actually pretty effective, is to drive over the walnuts with your car. You can also pound them with a hammer.

Removing the husk is messy too. The juice in it will stain everything. When you pull the nuts out of the husks, wear gloves and clothes you don’t mind ruining. Also consider wearing safety glasses. Bits can fly up and cause damage. Wash the shells that you end up with thoroughly to get rid of all the staining juice and discard any that look rotted or infected. Do not compost your husks. They can kill your vegetables!

Cure your walnuts by leaving them to dry in a cool place with no sunlight for a couple of weeks. When they are ready, the shell should open with a dry crack. If not, they need more curing time. Once the walnuts are cured, you can store and eat them as you would any other nut.

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