There is no arguing; walnuts are good for your health. There are numerous research-backed reasons to add this full-bodied nut to your diet. An exciting, newly released study makes a strong connection between walnuts and gut bacteria, leading to heart health. Let’s crack into all the benefits that walnuts have to offer and uncover what researchers are now saying about the walnut, gut, and heart connection.
For the sake of this article, we will be speaking about the common English walnut that most of us probably undervalue. Walnuts are a nutritional powerhouse, to say the least. They are loaded with health-promoting fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Walnuts are the most researched of all nuts
Walnuts are one of the most extensively studied nuts. For the past 50 years, researchers and nut experts have met each year at the University of California Davis for a big nut conference to discuss the latest benefits of the walnut!
The latest walnut research shows the importance of feeding healthy gut bacteria
The latest research on walnuts adds to the quickly compounding list of protective and health benefits of this nut. In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers found that eating walnuts along with a healthy diet, caused an increase in helpful bacteria within the gut. This gut bacteria has been associated with improvement in some of the risk factors relative to heart disease.
This most recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, elevates walnuts to a new status as being gut and heart-healthy! According to study leader Kristina Peterson,
“Replacing your usual snack — especially if it’s an unhealthy snack — with walnuts is a small change you can make to improve your diet. Substantial evidence shows that small improvements in diet greatly benefit health. Eating two to three ounces of walnuts a day as part of a healthy diet could be a good way to improve gut health and reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Earlier research has shown that walnuts, when eaten with a diet low in saturated fats, may promote heart health. In these studies, a connection has been made between consuming whole walnuts daily and a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other research has found an association between a healthy gut microbiome and cardiovascular benefits.
Professor of nutrition at Penn State, Kris-Etherton says this about gut health,
“There’s a lot of work being done on gut health and how it affects overall health. So, in addition to looking at factors like lipids and lipoproteins, we wanted to look at gut health. We also wanted to see if changes in gut health with walnut consumption were related to improvements in risk factors for heart disease.”
For the latest study, researchers recruited 42 participants who were overweight or obese and between the ages of 30 and 65. Before the study, participants consumed an average American diet for two weeks.
During the study period, participants were randomly assigned to one of three diets, all of which included less saturated fat than the standard American diet they were consuming before the study. One diet included whole walnuts, one the same amount of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), and polyunsaturated fats without the walnuts, and one that partially substituted oleic acid for the same amount of ALA found in walnuts, without any walnuts.
Researchers who conducted the latest study found significant links between changes in gut bacteria and a reduction in risk factors for heart disease after participants consumed a walnut-rich diet. The study period was six weeks in total, with breaks in between.
Fecal samples during the run-in diet and during the six weeks of study diet were collected from participants. It turns out, whole walnuts are an excellent snack for healthy gut bacteria, which makes them a healthy snack for us. According to Peterson,
“The walnut diet enriched a number of gut bacteria that have been associated with health benefits in the past. One of those is Roseburia, which has been associated with protection of the gut lining. We also saw enrichment in Eubacteria eligens and Butyricicoccus.”
After the walnut diet, researchers found that there were strong and positive associations between changes in gut bacteria and risk factors for heart disease. It’s truly an excellent time to be a walnut lover.
Here are just a few more things we know about the mighty and healthy walnut.
Walnuts are loaded with antioxidants
When it comes to antioxidants, walnuts receive “super nut” status. The antioxidants flow from the abundance of vitamin E, melatonin, and polyphenols within the nut, particularly in the thin skin. In one study, healthy participants who consumed a meal rich in walnuts exhibited protection from oxidative damage of “bad” cholesterol when the refined-fat meal did not offer the same protection. Oxidized “bad” cholesterol is apt to build up in arteries, causing narrowing and hardening. Consuming walnuts appears to reduce this impact.
Walnuts deliver a healthy dose of omega-3 fats
Walnuts contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut, providing 2.5 grams per just one ounce of nuts. The omega-3 that we get from plant sources is called ALA and is an essential fat that you have to get from your diet. Just one serving of walnuts provides the daily ALA needs of both men and women. Studies show that each gram of ALA you eat daily lowers your risk of dying from heart disease by 10%.
Walnuts may reduce inflammation
We know that inflammation is at the root of many severe and fatal conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. This inflammation is often caused by oxidative stress. The protective properties of polyphenols in walnuts can help reduce this oxidative stress and inflammation. Magnesium and the amino acid arginine, found in walnuts, may also play a role in reducing inflammation within the body.
Beneficial bacteria in the gut go to work to protect against inflammation as well. Previous research shows that an unhealthy microbiome within the gut contributes to inflammation and disease in other parts of the body. This increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Walnuts are good for your brain
Have you ever looked carefully at a walnut shell? Although it may just be a coincidence, it resembles a tiny brain, and walnuts just happen to be good for this powerhouse of the human body. Animal research and test-tube studies have uncovered that the nutrients packed in walnuts help to drive away oxidative damage and inflammation from the brain. Observational studies of older adults are promising, showing that eating walnuts improves brain function, speeds up processing time and allows for better memory and enhanced mental flexibility
Research reveals more reasons to eat walnuts
The benefits of eating walnuts don’t stop with what has been outlined above. As research continues to mount, more health benefits of walnuts are stepping into the spotlight, such as: