A tasty and filling mid-morning snack that you can also add to salads, cereals and soups, walnuts are among the most popular nuts in America. These brain-shaped seeds are also known for their nutrient contents. What are these, and how do they contribute to your health?
The following text is based on information from Harvard Medical School, the British Heart Foundation and other trusted sources. However, it is meant for general purposes only, and does not constitute any form or nutrition advice. Do not rely on it as a substitute for actual medical guidance. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian to address any dietary needs or concerns. Keep in mind that the best way to stay healthy is to follow a balanced diet that allows you to get all the nutrients you need from a wide range of food sources in the right proportions, while allowing for some flexibility.
Walnuts are good sources of fat — mostly poly-unsaturated fat—, and include minerals like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium.
Nuts are high in calories because of their fat content. In this case, however, that can be a good thing. Fat present in nuts is unsaturated, which is considered to be beneficial because it may help regulate cholesterol levels and alleviate inflammation, according to Harvard’s School of Public Health. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids — specifically, alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA — not exactly the same acids as those found in oily fish but a valid vegetarian alternative, experts note. Omega-3 acids are also considered to be beneficial to your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease. In 2013 a study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of walnuts could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Walnuts are also a natural source of L-Tryptophan, an essential amino acid that can be converted into serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that may affect mood and sleep, which is why many people turn to supplements and foods rich in tryptophan to fight insomnia, tiredness or depression. However, this link is still being researched, so the best proven way to use nutrition as a “mood booster” remains being a healthy diet coupled with physical exercise.
Another reason walnuts may be beneficial to your health is related to a high amount of antioxidant substances. Vitamin E, melatonin and chemical compounds called polyphenols. Antioxidants substances protect your cells and tissues from damage caused by harmful agents called free radicals, found in sunlight or cigarette smoke.
It is important to note that none of these benefits will offset the effects of any unhealthy foods you may eat regularly, as general consumption patterns mean that you won’t be getting more than a handful of these nuts each day. At any rate, no single food can make up for the lack of a healthy balanced diet, so it’s best to see walnuts as a healthy complement you can include in your meals or take as a snack in the context of an overall healthful diet.