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Nutrient - The nutritional benefits of walnuts

By Corin Evans DipION FdSc MBANT

For many people, walnuts are synonymous with crackling wood fires and the festive season but are we missing a trick by not including these unusual-looking nuts in our everyday diet?

The name walnut derives from old English and literally means ‘foreign nut’, thus called because it was imported from Gaul and Italy.

In traditional Chinese medicine, walnuts are used to help fortify the kidneys, moisten the intestines and strengthen the back and knees; while in India, they are used as an offering to the gods.

In nutritional terms, humble walnuts pack quite a punch, so just what makes them so special?

For starters, walnuts are a good source of both protein and fibre, and so can be a useful snack for keeping blood sugar levels stable and the digestive system healthy.

Despite their size, they are also brimming with valuable minerals, including iron, magnesium and manganese, all of which are vital nutrients involved in a multitude of fundamental processes within the body.

They are also one of the only nuts to contain the omega 3 essential fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Containing around seven per cent ALA, walnuts can be an excellent source of these vital fats for vegetarians, vegans or people who simply don’t want to eat oily fish.  

The health benefits of these essential fats are far-ranging and well-documented, but include optimal brain and immune function and cardiovascular, skin, eye and joint health. Alongside omega 3, walnuts are also rich in the essential omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA). This is the precursor to gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is vital for healthy hormone balance, skin and joints.

Walnuts have also been found to contain numerous polyphenolic compounds, each bringing health benefits. Ellagic acid, the most well known of these, has been demonstrated to be a potent antioxidant and may be helpful in preventing free-radical damage to cells.

So, how do you include them in your diet? Apart from simply enjoying them as a snack with a piece of fruit, one of the easiest ways is to add them to muesli or sprinkle on salads. They are also delicious with natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. If none of these ideas appeal, try using walnut butter on toast, as a good start to the day, or adding it to smoothies.

Far from being relegated to the back of the cupboard, these modest nuts should be given pride of place at the front, given that they are packed full of nutritional goodness! 

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