Walnuts: Taking the bitter with the sweet

by Karen Bowen

Are you one of the 94% of North Americans who do not eat any kind of tree nuts at all? If so, you are missing out on an easy nutrition boost. 

In a recent nutritional study it was found that on a daily average, people who eat tree nuts typically get noticeably better nutrition: Five more grams of fiber, 260 milligrams more of potassium, 95 milligrams more of magnesium, 73 milligrams more of calcium, 3.7 more milligrams of Vitamin E, and 157 fewer milligrams of sodium.

Dietary studies recommend that if you don’t have nut allergies, you should eat at least one ounce of tree nuts every day. Types of tree nuts include: Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios and/or walnuts.

Walnuts top the list for nutritional density. Eating just one ounce of walnuts (about seven shelled walnuts, or fourteen halves) each day can positively impact your overall health. Walnuts are particularly rich sources of energy and contain several minerals, antioxidants and vitamins necessary for optimal health. 

Walnuts offer some powerful phyto-nutrients that are not found in other commonly eaten foods. Recent phyto-nutrient research on the effects of these uncommon, powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties has shown walnuts may protect you against metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, insomnia, obesity, reduced bone density and cardiovascular disease.

The nutrients in walnuts specifically support your cardiovascular system by helping your blood vessels respond to various stimuli in a healthy way by maintaining a proper amount of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients in your system, a proper blood composition, the correct balance in inflammation-regulating molecules, and the proper composition and flexibility in the walls of your blood vessels.

Walnuts provide an excellent source of Vitamin E; just 25 grams of walnuts gives you 35% of your daily requirement. Vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, helps support healthy cell membrane, mucous membrane and skin tissue. The form of Vitamin E found in walnuts is quite unusual and potent. Most of walnuts’ Vitamin E is found in gamma-tocopherol form, instead of alpha-tocopherol. The qualities of the gamma-tocpherol form of Vitamin E provide significantly higher protection from heart disease than the other form.   

Walnuts also improve your cholesterol levels and create a healthier blood lipid profile by lowering LDL and increasing HDL blood levels. Walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid, and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, like linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acids. Eating just 25 grams of walnuts will give you 90% of the daily recommended omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of stroke and coronary artery disease, as well as your risk of prostate, colon and breast cancers.

Being a rich source of phyto-chemicals, including melatonin, ellagic acid, poly-phenolic compounds, and carotenoids, the anti-oxidant properties of walnuts help your body fight against inflammation, neurological disease, premature aging, and cancers. According to scientists at the University of Scranton, Penn., the high density of polyphonolic antioxidants in walnuts makes them super-scavengers of free radicals throughout your whole body.

Walnuts also contain B-complex vitamins: riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folates and Vitamin B-6. Water-soluble B-complex vitamins help to retain an efficient metabolism, to promote brain function by maintaining neurotransmitters, to promote digestive function by appropriately stimulating the release of gastric acid, and to maintain healthy hemoglobin levels. Since excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted daily, they should be consumed on a daily basis.

The various minerals in walnuts: copper, manganese, potassium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc, act as co-factors with various enzymes to regulate growth and support digestion.

If you do decide to add walnuts to your diet, be selective. For whole walnuts, choose ones in shells that feel heavy for their size. These shells should have no cracks, holes or stains, which may indicate harmful mold.

For shelled walnuts, select pre-packaged containers in the bakery aisle or bulk quantities from the bulk section.

Choose nuts that are not rubbery or shrivelled.

Since walnuts have a high polyunsaturated fat content, they are extremely perishable.

Store shelled walnuts in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to six months or in the freezer for one year. Ideally, unshelled walnuts should be stored in the fridge.

However, they can be safely stored in a cool, dry, dark place for up to six months.

When you’ve finally decided to give walnuts a try and are reaching into your container for a quick, walnut snack on the road, you may be tempted to peel off the skin – the whitish, waxy, flaky outermost part of the shelled nut. Don’t! This slightly bitter skin contains 90% of the walnut’s phenols, including key phenolic acids, tannins and flavinoids.   

Remember, to get the most benefit from walnuts, you’ll have to take the bitter with the sweet.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.

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  • Hold your gamma horses!
    “Vitamin E in canola and other oils hurts lungs
    A large new Northwestern Medicine study upends our understanding of vitamin E and ties the increasing consumption of supposedly healthy vitamin E-rich oils—
    canola, soybean and corn – to the rising incidence of lung inflammation and, possibly, asthma.
    The new study shows drastically different health effects of vitamin E depending on its form. The form of Vitamin E called
    gamma-tocopherol in the ubiquitous soybean, corn and canola oils is associated with decreased lung function in humans,
    the study reports. The other form of Vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, which is found in olive and sunflower oils, does the
    opposite. It’s associated with better lung function.
    “Considering the rate of affected people we found in this study, there could be 4.5 million individuals in the U.S. with
    reduced lung function as a result of their high gamma-tocopherol consumption,” said senior author Joan Cook-Mills, an
    associate professor of medicine in allergy/immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
    This is the first study to show gamma-tocopherol is associated with worse lung function.
    Cook-Mills presented her research in May at the Oxidants and Antioxidants in Biology World Congress. It was also
    published in the journal Respiratory Research.”

  • 94% of North Americans that do not eat tree nuts?

    That MUST be a typo, and makes we question the validity of the rest of the information right off the bat.