During early Roman times, the walnut was considered a food for the gods. Today, there is plentiful evidence that the nutrients contained in this edible seed prevent metabolic syndrome, the constellation of physical problems that sets us up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, two leading causes of death in the United States.
Walnuts have amino acids that relax smooth muscle and improve artery function, making hypertension less likely. Certain antioxidants in walnuts have been found to curb inflammation, the most destructive process in the body, and have even been shown to have anticancer effects.
Recently, scientists have been using artificial intelligence to dig deeper and identify the specific components of walnuts that lower our risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Walnuts plus a Mediterranean diet equals a healthier heart
Harvard researchers have been looking at walnut metabolites in an attempt to find out exactly how walnuts prevent these two major diseases.
Metabolites are simply the by-products of consuming a particular food. The body forms specific metabolites based on what food is consumed.
“In this study, we revealed the unique metabolomic signature of walnuts, which brings us one step closer to understanding “how” walnuts are good for our health. These cutting-edge technologies are shaping the future of nutrition recommendations,” says Dr. Marta Guasch-Ferré, a Research Scientist at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and lead investigator of this research.
The Harvard researchers examined data from over 1800 participants in the PREvencion con Dieta MEDiterranea (PREDIMED) study, a long-term study that took place in Spain and looked at the effects of a Mediterranean diet in preventing heart disease in those who were at high risk.
Participants were aged 55 through 80. They followed one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (50 percent walnuts, 25 percent almonds, and 25 percent hazelnuts), a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil; or a low-fat diet.
The study used a novel machine learning model to identify 19 metabolites that were associated with eating walnuts. These metabolites were associated with a 17 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a 29 percent lower risk of heart disease.
More health benefits of eating walnuts
The phytochemicals in walnuts do a lot more than just prevent heart disease and diabetes.
The particular combination of antioxidants in walnuts are powerful free radical scavengers that can slow the growth of cancer.
And a study at the Developmental Neuroscience Lab at the NY State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that eating walnuts every day may reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s disease.
This study showed that the nutrients in walnuts can boost learning ability, improve memory and increase motor skills.
How to get more walnuts into your diet
A bag of chopped walnuts is now a staple food in my pantry.
I add them to oatmeal, yogurt, and salads. Sometimes I just grab a handful, throw in some raisins, and satisfy my afternoon hunger attack.
Of course, walnuts are always a great addition to banana bread, muffins and other baked goods.
You can even use walnuts to make homemade pesto!
Making walnuts a part of your daily diet isn’t difficult. See what creative ways you can come up with to add healthy years to your life.
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