7 Reasons Walnuts Should Be Your Healthy, Go-to Snack

Did you know walnuts are one of the healthiest foods you can eat?

We love enjoying walnuts year-round, but there's something about biting into a still-hot slice of pumpkin bread studded with toasted walnuts and cozy spices that hits home. Walnuts can also add crunch to salads, depth to cheese ravioli, nuttiness to pesto, and you can't beat them when it comes to any buttery, brown sugar crumble topping.

And while walnuts are delicious, they're also packed with nutritional benefits. They even made it into our lists of the 30 healthiest foods you should eat every day, the 10 best heart-healthy ingredients, the best foods for fighting inflammation, and the healthiest types of nuts.

Walnuts are a pint-sized package of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants that you can take with you on the go. They're a mainstay in the mega-healthy Mediterranean Diet and about as versatile a food can get.

We spoke with Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RDN, about the endless health benefits you'll reap when you snack on walnuts.

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Immune Support

A 1-ounce serving of walnuts is packed with important nutrients, including protein (4 grams), fiber (2 grams), and magnesium (45 milligrams), which are all important in supporting our immune system and overall health. According to Bazilian, walnuts are also a good source of vitamin B6 (0.2 milligrams per ounce) and an excellent source of copper (0.45 milligrams per ounce), both of which help our immune systems function.

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Healthy Fats

Walnuts are unique among nuts because they contain almost entirely healthy, polyunsaturated fats (13 grams) including 2.5 grams of omega-3 alpha-linolenic (ALA) per 1-ounce serving. "In fact, walnuts are the only nut with a high amount of ALA, which has been associated with benefits for heart health, brain health, and inflammation," Bazilian explains. This is good to know as omega-3 ALA cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from foods.

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Among tree nuts and peanuts, Bazilian says walnuts have the greatest amount of polyphenols. These are antioxidant plant compounds that may play a beneficial role in promoting health in a variety of ways, including heart health, cognitive health, inflammation, and certain types of cancer.

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Gut Health

"Choosing the right foods to fuel your gut microbiome is key," Bazilian says. "Research shows that walnuts may be a good choice because of their prebiotic properties, which support gut health and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria."

RELATED: Your Gut Needs Prebiotics and Probiotics—but What's the Difference? This RD Breaks It Down

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Cognitive Health

Walnuts offer important nutrients that support brain health, and according to Bazilian, scientific evidence suggests that including walnuts as part of a healthy diet may play a role in helping to maintain and improve cognitive health as people age. For instance, according to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, eating walnuts may help improve performance on cognitive function tests for memory, concentration, and information processing speed in adults.

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Weight Management

Certain foods are beneficial for providing satiety, says Bazilian, and research shows walnuts may be one of them. A long-term observational study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that increasing daily nut consumption by just half a serving (14 grams or 0.5 ounces) was linked to less weight gain and lower risk of obesity.

"An increase in consumption of walnuts and other tree nuts by half a serving per day was associated with a 15 percent and 11 percent lower risk of developing obesity and lesser weight gain of -0.37 kilograms and -0.36 kilograms, respectively," she explains.

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Versatility and Convenience

There are myriad ways to incorporate walnuts into your diet, and when it comes to healthy eating, accessibility is key. "Walnuts are a versatile nut that pairs well with a variety of ingredients, contributing to different taste (sweet or savory) and texture (raw, toasted, or ground) profiles, all of which help with satisfying cravings and managing weight," Bazilian says.

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  2. Petrović-Oggiano G, Debeljak-Martačić J, Ranković S, et al. The effect of walnut consumption on n-3 fatty acid profile of healthy people living in a non-Mediterranean West Balkan Country, a small scale randomized study. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):192. doi:10.3390/nu12010192

  3. Sánchez-González C, Ciudad CJ, Noé V, et al. Health benefits of walnut polyphenols: An exploration beyond their lipid profile. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(16):3373-3383. doi:10.1080/10408398.2015.1126218

  4. Bamberger C, Rossmeier A, Lechner K, et al. A walnut-enriched diet affects gut microbiome in healthy caucasian subjects: A randomized, controlled trial. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):244.doi:10.3390/nu10020244

  5. Arab L, Ang A. A cross sectional study of the association between walnut consumption and cognitive function among adult US populations represented in NHANES. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015;19(3):284-290. doi:10.1007/s12603-014-0569-2

  6. Liu X, Li Y, Guasch-Ferré M, et al. Changes in nut consumption influence long-term weight change in US men and women. BMJ Nutr Prev Health. 2019;2(2):90-99. doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000034

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