Walnuts belong to the tree nut family, along with Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts and pistachios. Each has its own unique nutritional profile. It’s believed that the walnut tree dates as far back as 700 B.C. Walnuts were considered foods for the gods during the early Roman times, and were named after Jupiter – hence the scientific name Juglans regia.
The “English” walnut that everyone is familiar with today is native to India and regions around the Caspian Sea, and was named for the English merchants that carried it for trade around the world. Another variety, the black walnut, is native to North America, in the Appalachian region and central Mississippi valley.1 Eating just one ounce of walnuts a day (about seven shelled walnuts) may be all it takes to take advantage of their beneficial properties. But what exactly are walnuts good for?
The health benefits of walnuts lie in their high concentration of nutrients. According to “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” walnuts not only contain impressive amounts of antioxidants and vitamin E, but are also rich in monounsaturated fats. It’s actually one of the few nuts that has alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3s.
Walnuts contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors. If you struggle with herpes, you may want to avoid or limit your intake of walnuts, as high levels of arginine can deplete the amino acid lysine, which can trigger herpes recurrences.
Walnuts also contain the plant-based omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is anti-inflammatory and may prevent the formation of pathological blood clots. Research shows that people who eat a diet high in ALA have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.4 Eating just four walnuts a day has been shown to significantly raise blood levels of heart-healthy ALA, and walnut consumption supports healthful cholesterol levels.
Separate research showed that eating just one ounce of walnuts a day may decrease cardiovascular risk,6 and among those at high cardiovascular risk, increased frequency of nut consumption significantly lowers the risk of death.
Walnuts are a mainstay in the Mediterranean diet, and there have been numerous reports about their health benefits. Nutritionally speaking, they’re one of the most impressive nut varieties you can consider. For example, there’s 4.3 grams of protein in a cup of walnuts and 3.8 grams of carbohydrates. Take a look at walnut nutrition facts below.18
The outermost layer of a shelled walnut — the whitish, flakey (or sometimes waxy) part — has a bitter flavor, but you should resist the urge to remove it. It’s thought that up to 90 percent of the antioxidants in walnuts are found in the skin, making it one of the healthiest parts to consume.19 To increase the positive impacts on your health, look for nuts that are organic and raw, not irradiated or pasteurized.
It’s important to note that walnuts are highly perishable and their healthy fats easily damaged. If you’re purchasing shelled walnuts in bulk, avoid those that appear shriveled, smell rancid, or that you cannot verify are fresh.
Walnuts should be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer, whether they are shelled or unshelled. Walnuts are great as a quick snack, but if you’re not a fan of their flavor, you can still get their therapeutic benefits by blending them into smoothies. Or you can try one of the other healthful nuts available.
You can further improve the quality of walnuts by soaking them in water overnight, which will tend to lower some of the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. After soaking, you can dehydrate them at a low temperature of around 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit until they are crispy again, as they are far more palatable when they are crunchy.