Rich in omega-3s, walnuts linked to better health, reduced risk of heart disease

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A new study has found that walnuts are linked to healthier eating habits and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Alexandra Bergam/Stokey
  • New research shows that people who consume walnuts have healthier eating habits compared to people who do not eat walnuts or consume other types of nuts.
  • The results suggest that people who eat walnuts in early adulthood may have a healthier body composition and reduced cardiovascular risk factors as they age.
  • Nuts contain many nutrients that support a healthy life. Unlike other types of nuts, walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid. acid (ALA).

Walnuts are a nutritional powerhouse and an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.

A recent study published in Nutrition, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, compared walnut consumption with non-consumption. The researchers analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which included subjects’ 20-year dietary history as well as their cardiovascular risk factor profile at 30-year follow-up.

The study, which was partially funded by the California Walnut Commission, found that participants who ate walnuts at an early age were more likely to adopt healthier eating habits and be more active.

These results suggest that frequently including walnuts in your diet may act as a catalyst for developing healthy lifestyle habits. Walnut consumption in young to middle adulthood is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular problems later in life.

Lead researcher Lyn M. Steffen, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said the new study demonstrates how eating walnuts can improve body composition and cardiovascular vascular health

“The primary objective of this study was to determine whether nut consumers compared to non-nut consumers (other nut consumers or non-nut consumers) have a better dietary pattern and a better cardiovascular risk profile factors over 30 years of follow-up,” Steffen told Healthline.

“We found that walnut consumers had better body composition and some cardiovascular risk factors as they got older.”

According to Steffen, the results of the study show that people who eat walnuts have better eating habits overall.

“Our study showed that over more than 20 years of follow-up, nut consumers (compared to non-consumers) had healthier diets — including more fruits, vegetables and less processed meat, added sugar and saturated fat,” Steffen said.

Numerous studies have shown that consuming walnuts can offer health benefits such as:

Unlike other nuts, walnuts are a source of heart-healthy nutrients n-3 fatty acidsbetter known as omega-3 fatty acids.

“Walnuts are an excellent source of plant-based n-3 fatty acids — particularly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — and other antioxidants,” Steffen said. “Other nuts are also nutritious and contain fatty acids and antioxidants, but other types of nuts do not contain ALA, a plant-based n-3 fatty acid.”

Walnuts are also full of other nutrients that contribute to health and longevity.

“Also, walnuts contain many health-promoting nutrients—fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and thiamin,” explained Steffen.

In fact, it’s possible to get enough ALA in your diet from walnuts alone.

“Walnuts are extremely high in both the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and the polyunsaturated fat (omega-3) from ALA—the plant source of ALA,” said Dana Ellis Hance, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at the UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of “Prescription for Survival.”

“1 ounce of walnuts contains more than 1.5 [times] the recommended amount of omega-3 from ALA as stated by the Institutes of Medicine (IoM), and we can transform some of this ALA into DHA and EPA in our bodies, which is why the IoM only has a recommended intake level for ALA. “

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that eating nuts, including walnuts, can be part of a healthy diet.

According to Steffen, a 1-ounce serving of walnuts per day (about a handful) has been shown in several interventional studies to provide health benefits.

In the CARDIA observational study, the average serving size consumed was about 3/4 of an ounce of walnuts per day.

You can also increase your omega-3 intake with other nuts and seeds to get the heart benefits associated with polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“You can alternate walnuts with other foods high in omega-3s, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds (ground), or flaxseed oil,” Hunes suggested.

If walnuts aren’t for you, other nuts and seeds can still provide many health benefits.

“For those dealing with nut allergies and looking for alternatives, it’s always best to consult with your doctor or registered dietitian and discuss foods that fit into your lifestyle,” Steffen explained.

And if you can’t eat any type of nut, there are many other food sources that contain similar nutrients.

“Foods rich in plant-based n-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seeds, leafy greens and legumes,” Steffen said.

“Of course, oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout, halibut) are excellent sources of marine n-3 fatty acids.”

A growing body of evidence demonstrates the positive effects of including walnuts in your diet. Compared to other types of nuts, walnuts are unique because they are full of plant-based n-3 fatty acids like ALA.

People who eat walnuts at an early age have been shown to have improved eating habits, healthy body composition, and reduced cardiovascular risk factors as they age.

Either way, it’s never too late to start eating walnuts to reap some of the health benefits. A handful of walnuts a day is all you need.

If you have nut allergies, whole foods like leafy greens, chia seeds, and legumes have similar nutrients. However, you may want to talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes, especially if you have a chronic illness.

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