Rich in Omega-3s, Walnuts Linked to Better Health, Reduced Heart Disease Risk

A woman holds a container of walnuts at a farmers marketShare on Pinterest
A new study found that walnuts are linked to healthier eating habits and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Alexandra Bergam/Stocksy
  • New research suggests that people who consume walnuts have healthier eating habits than people who don’t consume walnuts or other types of nuts.
  • The results suggest that people who eat walnuts in early adulthood may have healthier body composition and lower cardiovascular risk factors as they age.
  • Walnuts contain many nutrients that support healthy living. Unlike other types of nuts, walnuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid acid (ALA).

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

A recent study published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, compared walnut consumption to non-consumption. Researchers analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which included 20 years of subjects’ dietary histories and their cardiovascular risk factor profiles over a 30-year follow-up.

The study, funded in part by the California Walnut Commission, shows that participants who ate walnuts early in life had a higher chance of adopting healthier eating habits and being more active.

These results suggest that including walnuts in your diet could often act as a catalyst for developing healthy lifestyle habits. Eating walnuts in young to middle adulthood is also associated with a lower 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 shows how eating walnuts affects body composition and human health improve cardiovascular health

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“The primary objective of this study was to determine whether walnut consumers had better dietary patterns and cardiovascular risk factor profiles over 30 years of follow-up compared to those who did not consume walnuts (other nut consumers or no nut consumers),” Steffen told healthline.

“We found that walnut consumers had better body composition and some cardiovascular risk factors with age.”

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

“Our study showed that walnut consumers (compared to non-consumers) had healthier diets over 20 years — including more fruits, vegetables, and less processed meats, added sugars, and saturated fats,” Steffen said.

Numerous studies have shown that eating walnuts can provide health benefits such as:

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

“Walnuts are an excellent source of plant-based n-3 fatty acids — specifically, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — and other antioxidants,” Steffen said. “Other nuts are also nutritious and contain fatty acids and antioxidants, but other nuts don’t contain ALA, plant-based n-3 fatty acids.”

Walnuts are also packed with other nutrients that contribute to health and longevity.

“In addition, walnuts contain many health-promoting nutrients – fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid and thiamine,” explains Steffen.

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

“Walnuts are extremely high in monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy, and also in polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids) from ALA — the plant-based source of ALA,” said Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD , Senior Clinical Nutritionist at UCLA Medical Center, Assistant Professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and author of “Recipe For Survival”.

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

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

According to Steffen, multiple intervention studies have shown that a 1-ounce serving of walnuts (about a handful) per day provides health benefits.

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

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

“You can alternate walnuts with other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia seeds, flaxseed (ground) or flaxseed oil,” suggested Hunnes.

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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 your doctor or a licensed dietitian and discuss foods that fit your lifestyle,” explained Steffen.

And if you can’t eat nuts, there are many other food sources that contain similar nutrients.

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

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

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

People who eat walnuts early in life have improved eating habits, healthy body composition, and reduced cardiovascular risk factors as they age.

Whatever the case, 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. Still, you should talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes, especially if you have a chronic medical condition.

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