According to Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RDN, walnuts are one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

By Betty Gold
December 14, 2020
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We’re in love with walnuts at all times of year, but there’s just something about biting into a still-hot slice of pumpkin bread studded with toasted walnuts and warming spices that hits home. Walnuts can also add crunch to salads, depth to cheese ravioli, nuttiness to pesto pasta, and you can’t beat them when it comes to any buttery, brown sugar crumble topping.

What else do walnuts win at? Nutritional benefits. They made it into our lists for the 30 healthiest foods you should eat every day, the 10 best heart-healthy ingredients, the best foods for fighting inflammation, and (duh) the healthiest types of nuts. Walnuts are basically 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.

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 one's 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 contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system.

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. BTW, omega-3 ALA cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from foods.

Among tree nuts and peanuts, Bazilian says that 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.

"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."

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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.

Certain foods are beneficial for providing a sense of fullness and satisfaction, 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.

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 helps with satisfying cravings and managing weight," Bazilian says.