If you're one of those people who won't eat nuts for fear they will make you fat, you need to stop thinking that way and take the advice of a new study, which finds that walnuts are a superfood. They protect your heart and don't cause weight gain – even if you eat them every day.

People are afraid to eat nuts because they are high in fat, and it's a commonly held belief that they will cause weight gain. However, nuts contain hugely beneficial compounds such as essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber that protect our heart health and can maybe help us live longer according to research. Therefore, we need to stop demonizing them and believing the hype that we should limit their consumption since several studies, including this latest one, say we should include them every day.

The latest study published in the American Heart Association's leading journal Circulation, found that eating a handful of walnuts a day decreased 'bad' LDL cholesterol — a risk factor for heart disease. The bonus is that the study participants aged 63-79 years didn't put on any weight during the study period of two years of eating the walnuts every day!

''Eating a handful of walnuts every day is a simple way to promote cardiovascular health. Many people are worried about unwanted weight gain when they include nuts in their diet," said study co-author Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Lipid Clinic at the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service of the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona in SpainRos in a press release "Our study found that the healthy fats in walnuts did not cause participants to gain weight."

Walnuts reduce the 'dangerous' cholesterol types

An interesting aspect of the new study, which was part of the Walnuts and Healthy Aging Study (WAHA), is that it highlighted how nuts decrease the types of cholesterol that cause the most damage. Stick with us for the science...

Of the 708 participants that were randomized to either eat walnuts every day or not at all, the daily consumers had a reduction in total cholesterol (an average of 8.5 mg/dL) and LDL 'bad' cholesterol (an average of 4.3 mg/dL), but also small and intermediate-density LDL particles (which are the worse type to have in the bloodstream) decreased.

"Prior studies have shown that nuts in general, and walnuts in particular, are associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke. One of the reasons is that they lower LDL-cholesterol levels, and now we have another reason: they improve the quality of LDL particles," said study co-author Emilio Ros, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Lipid Clinic at the Endocrinology and Nutrition Service of the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona in Spain in a press release. "LDL particles come in various sizes. Research has shown that small, dense LDL particles are more often associated with atherosclerosis, the plaque or fatty deposits that build up in the arteries. Our study goes beyond LDL cholesterol levels to get a complete picture of all of the lipoproteins and the impact of eating walnuts daily on their potential to improve cardiovascular risk."

Although the research was funded by the California Walnut Commission, they had no involvement in the study design and methods. The WAHA study is the largest and longest nut trial to date, and the authors comment that a strength of the study is that participants chose their daily foods which reflects a real-life scenario better than a controlled environment.

This new research adds to a multitude of evidence that nuts are great for health and further strengthens advice that everyone should be eating them daily. Walnuts in particular are a superior choice because they contain compounds that are beneficial for brain health, as well as keeping our cardiovascular system healthy and our cholesterol in check.

If you need convincing any further, read on to find out what's so special about nuts, why walnuts are health heroes, and how to include them in tasty plant-based meals.

Eating nuts may make you live longer

Nuts are not just a healthy snack, they can actually help you live longer and prevent early death from the major killer diseases.

A large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed nearly 119,000 adults over 30 years and found that those who consumed nuts seven or more times a week had a 20 percent lower death rate than those who ate no nuts at all. Eating daily nuts lowered the risk for most major causes of death including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Additionally, those who ate daily nuts gained less weight than those who ate none.

Additionally, a 2019 review of 19 studies indicated that nut consumption reduces the chances of developing and dying from coronary heart disease and stroke. The authors concluded that the unique profile of nuts which include unsaturated fatty acids, proteins, antioxidant compounds, vitamins, and minerals can prevent inflammation and protect the heart from damage.

Walnuts are nutritional powerhouses for the body and brain

It's no coincidence that walnuts look like a brain since they have benefits for our mental health and cognition, and can even help us to stress less. A 2020 review in Nutrients indicated that walnuts are beneficial for delaying or preventing cognitive decline, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. Additionally, research suggests that walnuts are anti-tumor and may prevent help prevent diabetes.

Their beneficial effects are due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, including polyphenols and alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. They're also packed with protein, fiber, and essential nutrients.

Walnuts contain the following nutrients per one ounce (14 halves):

  • calories: 185
  • protein: 4.31 grams (g)
  • total fat: 18.5 g
  • fiber: 1.9 g
  • calcium: 27.8 milligrams (mg)
  • magnesium: 44.8 mg
  • selenium: 1.39 micrograms (mcg)
  • folate: 27.8 mcg
  • omega 3 fatty acids: 2.57 g

How to include walnuts every day

It's easy to include just a handful of walnuts every day for health, and the following ideas can help you to start making the most of these nutritional powerhouses, either for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as snacks.

For breakfast

For lunch

For dinner

  • make a walnut 'meat' by blending walnuts, mushrooms, and tamari in a food processor and use in place of regular mince to fill tacos or enchiladas, to make a lasagna or chili, or to add to a spaghetti bolognese or nachos dish
  • top your favorite pasta or roasted vegetable dish with a plant-based walnut 'parmesan' made by blitzing walnuts with nutritional yeast

For snacks

  • pack a handful of walnuts in a container to fend off those mid-afternoon hunger pangs
  • have a healthier evening snack of a square of dark chocolate with a few walnuts - the tryptophan content can help you sleep better

The Bottom Line: Don't fear eating walnuts every day, they protect your heart and brain as well as keeping your waistline trim.

Walnuts are a great addition to a plant-based diet providing omega-3, protein, and fiber, and a whole host of essential nutrients. Whether you eat a handful as a snack every day or include them in recipes, one thing's for certain is that you are missing a trick if avoiding them.

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