Ingredient of the Week: When It Comes to Health, What Can't Walnuts Do?

October 9, 2015
by Michelle Pellizzon for Thrive Market
Ingredient of the Week: When It Comes to Health, What Can't Walnuts Do?

We're you one of those kids who used to brush the walnuts off the top of a chocolaty brownie? It might be time to grow up: Noshing on walnuts could be the secret to a healthy heart, a vibrant memory, and a leaner waistline.

The versatile tree nut gets popular around the holiday season—ever think about how The Nutcracker ballet got its name?—and its mild flavor means that it can be easily added to either sweet or savory dishes. Not too crunchy to be added raw to recipes, walnuts add thickness and depth when blended into soups and sauces.

There's more to this epicurean nut than just adaptability. Walnuts are highly praised in the medical world for their heart and brain health benefits.

Like most nuts, walnuts are a great source of monounsaturated fat and fiber, but they also contain a special, unique type of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol. Studies done on gamma-tocopherol in particular have found that this different form of vitamin E provides significant protection from heart problems. This special vitamin, in addition to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, is also the reason why walnuts decrease cholesterol and are recommend by the American Heart Association.

In fact, a serving of walnuts contains 113 percent of a your daily value of omega-3 fatty acids, the essential fatty acids our body needs to fight inflammation and that contribute to lowering the risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

You already know that most nuts contain an incredible amount of healthy fats like vitamin E, but walnuts are also crazy high in dietary copper, giving you more than half the daily value of this mineral that's necessary for making red blood cells and supporting the immune system. Because of the vitamin E and copper double whammy, walnuts are pretty much the perfect food for flawless skin, boosting collagen production and hydration of skin cells.

But you're more than just a pretty face. Good thing walnuts support the most vital organs in the body, too. In a study from the NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, a diet high in walnuts significantly improved memory and skill-learning in brains that were afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.  Omega-3 fatty acids are also necessary for healthy brain development, so keeping these nuts close by to munch on during work or school hours is a great way to boost memory and brain function.

And if you get a little too rowdy at the company holiday party this year (blame the mystery punch!), throw back some walnuts the next morning. Studies show that walnuts can help repair liver damage. Plus, because of their high level of antioxidants and phytonutrients, they can fight free radicals in the body. You might recognize free radicals for causing premature aging, skin damage, and other cell damage that occurs after a long night out.

So don't eat around these nuts—throw them into salads and sides, trail mixes, and granolas. Or for a slightly fancier culinary treat, try them in these flourless chocolate-walnut cookies and topping hearty pork chops in our smoky walnut romesco sauce.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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This article is related to: Nutrition, Nuts, Vitamin e, Walnuts, Healthy Fats, Ingredient of the Week

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