Walnuts are a type of tree nut that are known for their distinctive wrinkled exterior and rich, buttery flavor. In addition to being a tasty snack, walnuts have a range of medicinal properties and offer numerous health benefits that make them a valuable addition to a healthy diet. As more and more people look to natural remedies to address various health conditions, it is important to consider the potential benefits of incorporating walnuts into your diet.

Botanical Profile

Botanical Name: Juglans regia

Common Names: English walnut, common walnut

Plant Family: Juglandaceae

Countries of origin: Walnuts are native to the region stretching from the Balkans to the Himalayas, but they are now grown in many parts of the world.

Parts Used: The seeds (nuts) of the walnut tree are used for medicinal purposes.

Therapeutic Properties: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, and brain-boosting effects. They may also have anti-cancer properties and be beneficial for heart health, weight management, and diabetes management.

Nutritional Value

Walnuts are a nutrient-rich food, containing high levels of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals. A 1-ounce serving of walnuts (about 14 halves) contains 185 calories and 18.5 grams of fat, with 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. While walnuts are high in fat, it is important to note that the majority of the fat found in walnuts is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which are considered to be heart-healthy fats. Walnuts can fit into a healthy diet when consumed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.

Phytochemicals Profile

Walnuts contain a variety of phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that have health-promoting properties. Some of the main phytochemicals found in walnuts include:

  • Polyphenols: Walnuts are a rich source of polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant. Polyphenols have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as the ability to improve heart health by reducing cholesterol levels.
  • Phytosterols: Walnuts contain phytosterols, which are plant compounds that have a structure similar to cholesterol. Phytosterols have been shown to have cholesterol-lowering properties, which may help to improve heart health.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Walnuts are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and have been linked to improved heart health, brain function, and joint health.
  • Vitamin E: Walnuts are a rich source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E has been linked to improved immune function and heart health.
  • L-arginine: Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that has been shown to have several health benefits, including improving heart health, reducing blood pressure, and improving blood flow.
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Overall, the phytochemicals found in walnuts contribute to their numerous health benefits, including improved heart health, reduced risk of certain types of cancer, and improved brain function.

Medicinal Properties

  • High levels of antioxidants: Walnuts contain high levels of antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols. These antioxidants help to reduce inflammation in the body development of chronic diseases.
  • Ability to lower cholesterol levels: Walnuts contain a type of fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, so consuming foods that can help to lower cholesterol can be beneficial for heart health.
  • Improvement of brain function: Walnuts contain a variety of nutrients that have been linked to improved brain function, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and polyphenols. These nutrients may help to improve memory and cognitive performance, as well as slow age-related cognitive decline.
  • Potential to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer: Some studies have suggested that consuming walnuts may help to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of walnuts may play a role in this potential benefit.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: In addition to their high levels of antioxidants, walnuts also contain other nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties. These include omega-3 fatty acids and phytosterols, which may help to reduce inflammation in the body and lower the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Health Benefits

  • Improved heart health: The high levels of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats found in walnuts can help to improve heart health. Walnuts have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and inflammation, which can lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Reduced risk of certain types of cancer: Some studies have suggested that consuming walnuts may help to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of walnuts may play a role in this potential benefit.
  • Improved brain health: The nutrients found in walnuts, including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, have been linked to improved brain function. Consuming walnuts may help to improve memory and cognitive performance, as well as slow age-related cognitive decline.
  • Weight management: While walnuts are high in calories and fat, they are also high in fiber, which can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied. Including a small serving of walnuts in your diet as part of a calorie-controlled diet may help with weight management.
  • Diabetes management: Some studies have suggested that consuming walnuts may help to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. The fiber and healthy fats found in walnuts may help to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and improve blood sugar control. However, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet if you have diabetes.
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How to incorporate walnuts into your diet

There are many ways to incorporate walnuts into your diet, including adding them to salads, using them as a topping for oatmeal or yogurt, and using them in baking. Walnuts can also be enjoyed as a snack on their own or added to trail mix. It is important to note that if you have a tree nut allergy, you should avoid consuming walnuts and speak with your healthcare provider before adding them to your diet.

Side Effects & Contraindications

While consuming walnuts in moderation as part of a healthy diet is generally considered safe, there are some potential side effects and contraindications to be aware of.

  • Allergies: Some people may be allergic to walnuts or other tree nuts. Symptoms of a tree nut allergy can include itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and hives. If you have a tree nut allergy, it is important to avoid consuming walnuts and speak with a healthcare provider before adding them to your diet.
  • Drug interactions: Walnuts may interact with certain medications, including blood thinners and medications used to lower cholesterol. If you are taking any medications, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before adding walnuts to your diet.
  • Excessive consumption: Consuming large amounts of walnuts or any other food high in calories and fat can contribute to weight gain and other health issues. It is important to consume walnuts in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There is limited research on the safety of consuming walnuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it is generally recommended to consume them in moderation. It is always a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
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Conclusion

Walnuts are a nutritious and delicious food that offer a range of medicinal properties and health benefits. Including walnuts in your diet can help to improve heart health, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, and improve brain function. While it is important to consume any food in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet, adding a small handful of walnuts to your daily routine can provide numerous health benefits.

References:

  1. Beneficial effects of walnut consumption on human health: role of micronutrients
  2. Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health
  3. Effects of Walnut Consumption on Mood in Young Adults—A Randomized Controlled Trial
  4. Walnut intake, cognitive outcomes and risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis
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