It is well established that consuming walnuts as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, and a health claim from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for walnuts was given many years ago based on this research, explains Carol Sloan, RDN, FAND, health research director for the California Walnut Board & Commission.
“Our industry has continued to support new research to reveal the potential role of walnuts in a variety of health outcomes, including cognitive function, cancer, diabetes, weight management and reproductive health,” she points out. “Personalized nutrition and gut health research are the most recent areas of study conducted that shared the beneficial effects walnuts. These two areas of research go hand in hand, as our gut is very personal based on diet and other factors (in essence our second brain). In clinical trials, eating walnuts has shown a favorable effect on the microbiome, producing good bacteria.”
Sloan explains that although all nuts contain specific nutrients for health, walnuts stand out as an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid (2.5g/oz). ALA is an essential fatty acid that the body cannot produce and must get from foods consumed.
In addition, one ounce of walnuts contains 4g of protein, 2g of fiber and is an excellent source of magnesium (45mg). The unique nutrient profile of walnuts makes meeting the recent recommendations from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans possible.
“These recommendations emphasize more plant-forward eating,” Sloan says. “Interestingly general nutrition research points to eating less saturated fat and in fact replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat. Guess what? Walnuts are composed primarily of polyunsaturated fat (13 out of 18 grams of total fat per 1 ounce serving). That said, scientists feel that consuming the whole walnut has positive synergistic effects on risk factors. Pulling out one bioactive or specific nutrient is not how we eat, nor should it be!”
In bakery foods, walnuts have the unique ability to bring flavor, texture, and nutritious properties to a variety of products. Here are some favorites made with walnuts and their recipes:
- Banana Walnut Donuts with Maple Glaze
- Walnut Oatmeal Cream Pies
- Gluten Free Pumpkin Walnut Muffins
- Vegan Cookie Dough
- Walnut Banana Bread
As a registered dietitian Sloan knows that there is no perfect diet that works for everyone. However, we can individualize diets to optimize the best overall health.
“Above I share that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote healthier eating patterns such as more plant-forward and Mediterranean type pattern, and with new research using AI, investigators feel the future will allow for even more detailed food selection options when looking at how a person metabolizes food based on their history of disease and gene interactions,” she explains.
The National Institutes of Health “defines precision nutrition as the goal of individualized, actionable dietary recommendations that help people decide what, when, why, and how to eat to optimize their health and quality of life.” This research is new, exciting, she says, and hopefully adaptable in a few years.
“The future for personalized nutrition is bright,” Sloan emphasizes. “Eating more nutrient dense foods such as walnuts is a possible step towards better health!”