Health Benefits And Nutritional Facts Of Walnuts
Health benefits of walnuts include boosting brain, skin and hair health. But, is that all to walnuts? Read on to find out more about the nutritional value of walnuts.
By Sahana Charan
How often have you told your little ones about the health benefits of walnuts and packed a handful in their school snack box for the much-needed energy and sharp brains? Many parents would do the same. The health benefits of akhrot gives it an exalted place in the Indian household and cuisine, and including them in our daily diet works wonders for our health.
Often called a superfood, from time immemorial, scientists and well-being experts have been trying to find out more about the benefits of eating walnuts. It would surprise you to know that walnuts have existed since prehistoric times and are one of the first cultivated plant species known to man.
Walnuts or akhrot are tree nuts that come in many varieties and are found in different regions of the world. But, the most popular ones are the common walnut and black walnut. The common walnut (Juglans regia), also referred to as Persian walnut or English walnut, is native to the area stretching between the Balkans to China. But, it is now grown in different parts of Asia and Europe. The black walnut (Juglans nigra) originated in North America.
The benefits of akhrot are many. Compared to other fruits and nuts, walnuts are packed with a higher amount of nutrients. Therefore, their use in preventing health problems is significant. Walnuts contain good fats that help keep the cholesterol in our body in check. As a result, eating walnuts protects us from lifestyle diseases and infections.
Eating walnuts regularly keeps the hair lustrous and skin radiant. Walnut oil, extracted by pressing the nuts, is used for culinary purposes and as a massage oil for the hair and skin.
Munching on a few walnuts every day can promote brain function and help in weight loss.
Women are often advised to include walnuts in their diet during pregnancy, as the nuts provide them with essential nutrients and protect the foetus as well.
How to eat walnuts
There are various ways of eating walnuts:
- Eat shelled walnuts just as they are — pop a few halves into your mouth as a mid-morning snack or whenever hunger strikes.
- Roast them on a griddle with some salt and pepper.
- Add some chopped walnuts to any salad.
- In the morning, top your child’s oat or millet porridge with a handful of chopped walnuts for energy.
- Sprinkle crushed walnuts over hot pancakes or mix into the pancake or dosa batter.
- Use walnuts to make healthy desserts. Add them to banana bread, whole wheat muffins and so on.
- Make healthy Indian sweets like date and walnut roll or walnut barfi, which the whole family can enjoy during festival time.
Nutritional value of walnuts
Walnuts are unique among all tree nuts as they are a storehouse of antioxidants such as polyphenols, carotenoids, vitamin E and many more that prevent inflammation and build immunity.
They are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids such as linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and arachidonic acids. Apart from these valuable nutrients, walnuts are also packed with vitamin B-complex, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper, etc. That’s why this wonder nut is a great energy and brain booster for you and your little ones.
According to the nutrient database of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100g portion of walnuts contains:
- Energy: 654 kcal
- Protein: 15.23g
- Fat: 65.21g
- Carbohydrate: 13.71g
- Sugars: 2.61g
- Dietary fibre: 6.7g
- Vitamin C: 1.3mg
- Iron: 2.91mg
- Potassium: 441mg
- Magnesium: 158mg
- Calcium: 98mg
Health benefits of eating walnuts
According to an article, ‘Why are walnuts good for me?’ by the noted dietician, Keri Glassman in WebMD, eating even a few walnuts daily can give a host of health benefits. “Walnuts are the only nuts that contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which promotes heart health and helps lower blood pressure. 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,” she says.
Here are some of the health benefits of walnuts:
1. Walnuts benefits for heart: A high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts helps bring down cholesterol levels in the body, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The study, ‘Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: an updated meta-analysis and systematic review of controlled trials’, revealed that regular intake of walnuts improved the blood lipid profile without adversely affecting body weight or blood pressure. Researchers who conducted the study found that the combination of unsaturated fatty acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals in walnuts significantly decreased LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body and promoted a healthy heart.
2. Walnut benefits for hair and skin: Looking for something that will bestow you with shiny hair and radiant skin? All you have to do is avoid junk food and include walnuts in your diet. Walnuts have high levels of a variety of antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients build overall immunity and protect against free radicals. The natural oils in the walnuts lock in moisture and drain out toxins from the inside, resulting in healthy hair and skin. The presence of B-complex vitamins in walnuts enhances hair growth and proteins in the nut promote shiny, strong hair. Walnut is also a rich source of polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E that keep the skin glowing and radiant. The potassium present in walnuts prevents bloating and puffiness of the skin.
3. Walnut advantages for the brain: As children, we were enamoured to see that the tasty, brown nut inside the hard round shell resembled the structure of the brain and it is not surprising that our parents often reiterated the walnut’s memory and intelligence-boosting properties. In a research paper, ‘Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age’, published in the Journal of Nutrition in Feb 2014, researchers revealed that English walnuts are rich in numerous phytochemicals, including high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer potential benefits to brain health. These nutrients reduce inflammation of the brain cells and improve inter-neuronal signalling, thus promoting mental ability. The DHA (a type of Omega-3 fatty acid) in walnuts also helps improve cognitive function in children and adults.
4. Walnuts for weight loss: There is a perception that munching on nuts leads to weight gain. However, on the contrary, researchers have time and again reiterated the weight management properties of nuts, especially walnuts. Rock et al in their research paper, ‘Walnut Consumption in a Weight Reduction Intervention: Effects on Body Weight, Biological measures, Blood pressure and Satiety’, indicated that including walnuts in the diet can bring down the risk of obesity and aid in weight loss. The fibre content in walnuts also keeps us feeling full for longer and prevents cravings.
5. Walnuts for gut health: Regular consumption of walnuts helps produce good bacteria in our digestive system and improves overall gut health. According to a study by Bamberger et al, “Daily intake of 43g walnuts over eight weeks significantly affected the gut microbiome by enhancing probiotic- and butyric acid-producing bacteria in healthy individuals.”
Walnut oil uses
Has your skin become dry and dull because of constant sun exposure and pollution? Try massaging some walnut oil on your skin and hair, and see the difference.
These days, constant exposure to harmful substances and harsh climatic conditions can wreak havoc on our skin and hair. Just as eating walnuts removes toxins from our body and keeps us looking healthy, walnut oil can do the same. Apart from drizzling a little walnut oil on different types of salad and stir-fried vegetables, this precious oil can also be used topically on the skin and hair to reveal some amazing effects. The antioxidant properties of the oil reverse the effects of oxidative stress on our body and prevent premature aging of the skin and hair.
Walnut oil can be used as a massage oil for the face and body in combination with other aromatic oils. The vitamin E present in walnut oil makes the skin look fresh and youthful.
Walnut oil prevents inflammation and has anti-fungal properties. So, one of the many walnut oil benefits for skin includes treating fungal infections of the skin.
Benefits of walnut during pregnancy
Pregnant women are often advised to consume walnuts on a daily basis as the nutrients in the nut protect both the mother and the baby. Moreover, Omega-3 fatty acids present in walnuts help in the proper development of brain cells in the foetus.
A research paper titled, ‘Maternal nut intake in pregnancy and child neuropsychological development up to 8 years old: a population-based cohort study’, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, says that eating nuts during pregnancy may improve the cognitive ability of the child.
In this study, researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Spain, found that children of mothers who regularly consumed walnuts during pregnancy, scored significantly higher overall on tests of sustained attention, working memory and IQ than those of mothers who ate less.
Interesting facts about walnuts
- The walnut tree has been around for thousands of years. It is supposed to be one of the oldest plants known to man.
- In the olden days, walnuts were one of the commodities traded by merchants through the sea route.
- Even though the common walnut is sometimes referred to as the English walnut, it was rarely grown in England commercially.
- English walnuts are actually native to Persia and were found mostly in the area stretching from the Balkans to China. In the ancient times, the nuts were traded by the English all over the world, hence the name.
- Walnuts have a high fat content but they do not contribute to producing bad cholesterol in our body.
- Most of the walnuts grown in the United States of America come from California, where they are commercially grown.
- In India, most of the walnut cultivation (the Persian variety) happens in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
Walnuts for babies
Walnuts contain valuable nutrients that can boost your little one’s growth and development. They are a rich source of vitamin E, iron, calcium, unsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids that can fulfil a large part of your baby’s daily nutritional needs. From promoting brain health to maintaining supple skin and offering protection against infections, a diet including walnuts can have immense benefits for your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies over six months of age can be offered solid food including peanuts and tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.) in a way that they do not pose a choking hazard. Whole nuts should only be given after a child is at least four years old.
If you want to include the goodness of walnuts in your baby’s diet, blend them with nutritious fruits and vegetables to make purees and smoothies. You can also mix powdered walnuts in your baby’s cereal for an energy-packed meal.
Often, all the nutrients that we look for in fancy, packaged foods and nutritional supplements can easily be found in the simple and wholesome fruits, vegetables and nuts present in our kitchen. So, instead of reaching out for that nutrition bar for your child the next time, give him a handful of walnuts.
About the author:
Written by Sahana Charan on 25 November 2019
Sahana Charan is an independent writer and journalist with an interest in writing about health and wellness, environment, urban living and child rights.
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