- New research suggests that people who consume walnuts have healthier eating habits compared to people who don’t eat walnuts or consume other types of nuts.
- Results indicate that people who eat walnuts in early adulthood may have healthier body composition and reduced cardiovascular risk factors as they age.
- Walnuts contain many nutrients that support healthy living. Unlike other types of nuts, walnuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Walnuts are a nutrition powerhouse and an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.
A recent study, published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, compared walnut consumption to non-consumption. The researchers analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which included 20 years of subjects’ diet history as well as their cardiovascular risk factor profile at a 30-year follow-up.
The research, which was partially funded by the California Walnut Commission, shows that participants who ate walnuts early in life had a higher chance of adopting healthier eating habits and being more active.
These results suggest that incorporating walnuts into your diet often could act as a catalyst for developing healthy lifestyle habits. Walnut consumption during young to middle adulthood is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular issues later in life.
Lead researcher Lyn M. Steffen, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said the new study demonstrates how eating walnuts could improve body composition and cardiovascular health
“The main objective of this study was to determine if walnut consumers compared to those who didn’t consume walnuts (other nut consumers or no nut consumers) had a better diet pattern and better cardiovascular risk factor profile over 30 years of follow-up,” Steffen told Healthline.
“We found walnut consumers had a better body composition and some cardiovascular risk factors as they aged.”
According to Steffen, the study’s results demonstrate that people who ate walnuts had better eating habits overall.
“Our study showed that over 20 years of follow-up, walnut consumers (compared to non-consumers) ate a healthier diet pattern — including more fruit, vegetables, and lower in processed meat, added sugar, and saturated fat,” Steffen said.
Numerous studies have shown that walnut consumption may offer health benefits such as:
Unlike other nuts, walnuts are a source of heart-healthy
“Walnuts are an excellent source of plant n-3 fatty acids — more specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — and other antioxidants,” Steffen said. “Other nuts are also nutritious and contain fatty acids and antioxidants, but other types of nuts do not contain ALA, plant-based n-3 fatty acids.”
Walnuts are also filled with other nutrients that contribute to health and longevity.
“Additionally, walnuts contain lots of nutrients that promote health — fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and thiamin,” Steffen explained.
In fact, it’s possible to get enough ALA in your diet from walnuts alone.
“Walnuts are extremely high in both monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy, and also polyunsaturated fats (omega-3s) from ALA — the plant-based source of ALA,” said Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of “Recipe For Survival.”
“1 ounce of walnuts contains more than 1.5 [times] the amount of suggested omega-3 from ALA as stated by the Institutes of Medicine (IoM), and we can transform some of this ALA into DHA and EPA in our bodies, which is why the IoM only has a recommended intake level for ALA.”
According to Steffen, a 1-ounce serving per day of walnuts (about a handful) has been shown in several intervention studies to provide health benefits.
In the CARDIA observational study, the average serving size consumed was about 3/4 of an ounce of walnuts per day.
You can also increase your intake of omega-3s with other nuts and seeds to receive the heart-healthy benefits associated with polyunsaturated fatty acids.
“You can alternate walnuts with other foods that are high in omega-3s, such as chia seed, flax seed (ground), or flax oil,” Hunnes suggested.
If walnuts aren’t for you, other nuts and seeds can still provide plenty of health benefits.
“For those managing nut allergies and looking for alternatives, it’s always best to consult your physician or registered dietitian and discuss foods that fit into your lifestyle,” Steffen explained.
And if you’re unable to eat any type of nuts, there are plenty of other food sources that contain similar nutrients.
“Foods rich in plant n-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seeds, leafy greens, and legumes,” Steffen said.
“Of course, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, halibut) are excellent sources of marine n-3 fatty acids.”
Growing evidence demonstrates the positive effects of incorporating walnuts into your diet. Compared to other types of nuts, walnuts are unique because they are filled with plant n-3 fatty acids like ALA.
People who eat walnuts early in life are shown to have improved eating habits, healthy body composition, and reduced cardiovascular risk factors as they age.
Be that as it may, it’s never too late to start eating walnuts to reap some of the health benefits. A handful of walnuts per day is all you need.
If you have nut allergies, whole foods such as leafy greens, chia seeds, and legumes have similar nutrients. Still, you may wish to speak with your doctor before making dietary changes, especially if you have a chronic condition.