By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What They Are
Most of us have a favorite nut (the kind you eat, that is!). Today we’re focusing on the oldest tree food known to man, the walnut. Walnuts are probably best known for their hard-to-open shells and brain-like shape. Seriously, have you ever examined one? No wonder they're good brain food: They look like little brains! They’re grown all over the world, and while they may get picked over in the mixed-nut bowl, there are plenty of reasons to seek them out. So let’s get crackin’.How To Chow Down
The Dirty Deets
We eat nuts for their heart-healthy fats and protein. An ounce of walnuts -- that’s about 14 halves -- contains 185 calories, 4 grams of protein and about 18 grams of fat. (You’ll burn some of those calories trying to break them open.)
- Walnuts are the only nuts that contain high amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids (also known as ALA), which promote heart health and help lower blood pressure. You'll get 2.5 grams of ALA per ounce of walnuts, but you don’t need a whole ounce to get results; eating even a few walnuts per day has been found to have health benefits.
- Research has shown that walnut chomping can help manage metabolic syndrome, diabetes and inflammation. The nuts also have anticancer properties and can even play a role in weight management. Most of us have at least one of these ailments lurking in our genes, so it’s worth dropping a walnut or two into your daily diet.
- Huh? What? Walnuts are known to improve cognitive functioning and memory. Eating them regularly has also been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
How To Chow Down
I was just joking about the workout you'll get cracking walnuts... Who has the time? Buy your walnuts shelled -- halved, in pieces or chopped -- and store them in the freezer after you open them. Walnuts have a high oil content, which causes them to spoil when exposed to air and warmth. Keeping ‘em cold extends their life.
- Eat your walnuts straight up, on top of oatmeal, salads, cereals and yogurts. Mix them into your pilaf and quinoa salads. Bake ‘em up in your favorite dessert. Because they're mild, they're also versatile; capitalize on that by pairing them with sweet and savory dishes.
- Walnuts are deeply embedded in the Mediterranean diet, so try them in a feta grilled cheese as an amazing vegetarian lunch. You can also make a deliciously decadent spread that's sure to satisfy and is rich with nutrients. Don’t forget to arm yourself with crudités for dipping!
- If you're looking for something sweet, you’d be nuts to overlook our friend the walnut. Walnut biscotti are the perfect cookie to satisfy a craving and keep your tea company. By the way, the cocoa and ginger in this biscotti recipe are antioxidant powerhouses, so you can actually feel good about having one!
In The Know
The best foods out there are the ones that don’t come in fancy packaging. They aren’t marketed on billboards or endorsed by superstars. Walnuts are the perfect example of what a best food embodies -- they grow in nature, are full of health benefits and taste delicious. Stop passing them by and bring home a bag. Your heart, brain and waistline will thank you!