Walnuts are highly nutritious and rich in healthy fats
Walnuts are highly nutritious and rich in healthy fats and antioxidants, plus vitamins and minerals. Ahead, learn about walnut health benefits, plus ways enjoy to walnuts at home.
What Are Walnuts?
Walnuts are the seeds of the walnut tree, according to a scientific review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (IJMS).
The tree sprouts fleshy fruits with a green, leathery outer layer known as the hull or husk. When the fruit is ripe, the hull breaks open to reveal a hard brown shell that houses the kernel (aka seed) — this is the part you eat.
While there are many types of walnuts, the most common variety is the common walnut, also known as the Persian walnut.
Botanically speaking, walnuts are not actually nuts, but rather the seed of a drupe, a type of fruit that contains a seed. The more you know!
If the walnut were to win a superlative, it would likely be for its sky-high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which are often referred to as "good" fats.
In fact, it's one of the top plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of PUFA that's an anti-inflammatory superstar, according to a 2019 study.
The nuts also offer fiber, folate, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants, such as polyphenols.
Ward Off Disease
Research has linked free radicals to myriad chronic diseases, but the antioxidants in walnuts can help ward them off. This includes compounds such as polyphenols, vitamin E, and catechin, which is also found in green tea.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that, in excess, can trigger cell damage or oxidative stress, which, over time, can snowball into chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer. But antioxidants, such as those in walnuts help reduce and remove free radicals by changing their molecular makeup.
Manage Blood Sugar
Walnuts contain soluble fiber, one of the best nutrients for controlling blood sugar. This helps control blood sugar and, in turn, prevent blood sugar spikes, which, if frequent, can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
But soluble fiber isn't the only nutrient responsible for this health benefit of walnuts. Magnesium and ALA — both of which are found in walnuts, help promote insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity refers to how well your body responds to insulin, which controls blood sugar and staves off type 2 diabetes.
Promote Heart Health
Thanks to its impressive ALA content, walnuts are one of heart's best friends. The ALA fatty acid can lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, according to a study in the Journal of American Heart Association.
Research also suggests that ALA has antioxidant effects that may protect against LDL oxidation — a process that's thought to occur when LDL cholesterol reacts with free radicals in the body. LDL oxidation seems to play a role in plaque formation, which can contribute to heart disease.
Similarly, potassium adds to the health value of walnuts by relaxing blood vessels, further controlling high blood pressure and preventing heart issues, he explains.
Support Brain Health
In addition to resembling tiny brains, walnuts can actually benefit the brain. This is partially due to their impressive heart benefits; brain health, after all, relies on proper blood flow, which is controlled by the heart.
Specifically, factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol can impair blood flow to the brain, leading to cognitive impairment. But as the heart-friendly nutrients in walnuts target these factors, they can also protect the brain.
ALA also helps the body produce anti-inflammatory molecules that ward off inflammation and blood vessel damage — both of which can increase the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
The antioxidant properties of walnuts help, too. When the brain is under oxidative stress, it can lead to cognitive decline. That's because, over time, oxidative stress wreaks havoc on brain cells.
But walnuts' antioxidants can decrease this oxidative damage, ultimately delaying or slowing the progression of cognitive decline.
You might be surprised to learn that walnuts contain melatonin, which can help treat sleep disorders. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the body's circadian rhythm or internal body clock.