If you’re one of the many Americans with an appetite for nuts, you might wonder what sets the various tree nuts apart. According to The Washington Post, the almond is America’s most popular nut, and for good reason. The almond has been long-associated with improved heart health, skin care, and prevention against diabetes (just to list a few examples.) As much as we love almonds, along with other tree nuts, we think it’s time that the walnut came out of its shell!
What sets the walnut apart from the mix are the unique health benefits along with versatility of usage. Walnuts score higher than any other tree nut in measurement of antioxidant activity by the Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma (FRAP) index. In fact, walnuts were second only to blackberries in antioxidant value of all regularly consumed foods. Compared with other common plant foods, walnuts (Juglans regia) are consistently ranked the highest in antioxidant capacity. Walnut polyphenols inhibit plasma and LDL oxidation and lower biomarkers of oxidative stress and raise antioxidant capacity.
We think it’s an interesting coincidence that the fruit of the walnut is shaped like our brain, because walnuts may be helpful for cerebral activity in the elderly. Walnuts contain polyphenols and bioactive substances that exhibit multiple effects on neural tissue. A recent study out of Tufts University in Boston demonstrated adding a moderate, but not high, amount of walnuts to an otherwise healthy diet may help the elderly improve performances on tasks that require motor and behavioral skills.
Why Eat Nuts
It is not only walnuts that are beneficial to our health; all nuts have high FRAP indices. One ounce (approximately a handful) of daily nut consumption contributes to a 25 percent reduction in death from heart disease, a 10 percent reduction in death from cancer, and a 20 percent reduction in death from diabetes as well as lung diseases.
A Sentinel Study
A 2013 study from Harvard Medical School published in the New England Journal of Medicine clearly demonstrated the health benefits of eating a handful of nuts daily. Adults who regularly consumed nuts compared with those who did not eat any nuts had a statistically significant reduction in all-cause mortality. This included death from cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease, neurodegenerative disease, kidney disease, infection and diabetes. This study looked at nut consumption exclusive of all other factors including overall diet, exercise and obesity.
Of special importance is the fact that this study was prospective, had a very large study group (over 170,000 participants) and continued for over 30 years. The authors concluded, “As compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate. Inverse associations were observed for most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases.” The study found that nut eaters enjoyed longer lifespans even if they did not exercise, avoided fruits and vegetables, and were overweight.
Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating nuts, just as taking antioxidant supplements, should not be considered an excuse for not exercising regularly or not maintaining a healthy weight. We consider the daily consumption of nuts to be part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy eating (primarily plant based), regular aerobic exercise, meditation (or similar stress reduction practice), drinking plenty of pure water, and avoiding toxins.
Heart Health Benefits of Nuts
In addition to providing a good source of protein, nuts contain heart-healthy substances:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease, or a heart attack.
- L-arginine: Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that improves health by lowering blood pressure, reducing blood stickiness, improving blood flow, relieving congestive heart failure, improving the flexibility of your artery walls and making them less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite nut! Do you prefer it because of its health benefits, or simply because it’s such a tasty treat?