Walnuts for Heart-Healthy Omega-3s

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One of the holiday traditions that my family has always kept is leaving out a bowl of nuts in the shell — along with an assortment of enigmatic nut retrieval tools — for people to help themselves to. I’m not really sure where this tradition originated (although, considering the ballet The Nutcracker was composed in 1892, I’m guessing the tradition goes back a ways), but my family sticks to it.

And why not? Keeping a bowl of healthy nuts, still in their shells to protect them from going rancid, is a holiday tradition I can really get behind. (Unlike Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses or candy canes which only seem good for tempting us with unhealthy, sugary junk.)

One of my favourite guys in the nut bowl, as well as being one of the more nutritionally dense, is the walnut. Primarily, walnuts are a terrific source of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a heart-healthy omega-3 fat. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods website, a quarter cup of walnuts provides over 90 percent of the total daily requirement for omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been found to protect the cardiovascular system, promote better cognitive function, provide anti-inflammatory benefits which are helpful for asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and the fats are helpful for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. And all these benefits could potentially come from a handful of nuts.

Walnuts have also been found to be high in a phytonutrient called ellagic acid, a polyphenol antioxidant compound found in lab studies to stop carcinogenic compounds from binding to DNA, therefore preventing the formation of cancer. This may help to explain why a diet high in walnuts has been found to significantly decrease the risk of contracting breast cancer.

A recent study out of Yale University found that daily walnut consumption strengthened the blood vessels, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease in diabetic patients. And a meta-analysis done by researchers at Harvard found a diet high in walnuts lead to reduced LDL cholesterol levels. These are just two studies in the growing list of evidence that walnut consumption improves markers for cardiovascular disease.

On top of this, walnuts are high in vitamin E (which may also have something to do with their correlation to lower breast cancer risk), manganese, copper and the mood-stabilizing amino acid tryptophan. Walnuts also contain at least 16 different antioxidant phenols, two of which have been found to prevent LDL from becoming oxidized, which is associated with heart disease.

So the next time you need a quick snack or a good way to add a little crunch to your salad, reach for a handful of walnuts.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale

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