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Nutrient - Walnuts - Rank highest among the nuts as a powerful antioxidant-rich food

(Juglans regia)

By Dr Pieris Nicola PhD BSc (Hons) DipION

 A new scientific study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, US, finds that walnuts top all other nuts when it comes to the quantity and quality of healthful polyphenol-type antioxidants. These findings were recently presented by scientists at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California.

 Under the shell

Nuts are nutritional powerhouses and should figure more in our diets. Scientific research has frequently linked regular consumption of nuts with a decreased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, gallstones and type-2 diabetes.

Unlike animal products, nuts are free from cholesterol and contain only tiny amounts of saturated fat. Instead, nuts have lots of heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that resemble those found in olives and other vegetables. Walnuts, unlike many other nuts, contain a large proportion of plant-derived omega 3 fatty acids.

In addition, nuts are excellent sources of healthy fibre, protein, minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E and anti-inflammatory polyphenols.

Polyphenols are plant-based phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant activities. Antioxidants help to quench harmful free radicals as surely as water douses fire. Free radicals may contribute to a host of chronic conditions, including damage during the early stages of atherosclerosis, cancer and vision loss.

But scientists,until now, had not compared both the amount and quality of antioxidants found in different nuts.

Chemistry Professor Joe Vinson PhD, and his team, filled that gap by analysing the polyphenol antioxidant content of nine different types of nuts: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias and pecans.

Dr Vinson found that the level of antioxidants present in walnuts was highest among the nuts.

"A handful of walnuts contain almost twice as much (sic) antioxidants as an equivalent amount of any other commonly consumed nut. But unfortunately, people don't eat a lot of them. This study suggests that consumers should eat more walnuts as part of a healthy diet."

Dr Vinson's team also found that walnuts had more powerful antioxidants. In terms of their antioxidant effects, the polyphenols in walnuts were 2-15 times as potent as vitamin E, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant.

“There’s another advantage in choosing walnuts as a source of antioxidants,” said Dr Vinson. “The heat from roasting nuts generally reduces the quality of the antioxidants. People usually eat walnuts raw or unroasted, and get the full effectiveness of those antioxidants.”

Even though nuts are calorie-dense, eating them does not appear to cause weight gain and even makes people feel full and less likely to overeat. Epidemiological studies have shown an association between long-term nut consumption and a lower risk of weight gain and obesity

By incorporating walnuts into a balanced, healthful diet, you can take a big step towards optimal health. And it only takes seven walnuts a day to get the potential health benefits uncovered in previous studies!

In the autumn, the large, Common Walnut tree produces plump fruit comprising a green husk and inner ‘brain shaped’ seed, called a walnut. This delicious, sweet nut is high in fibre and rich in the omega 6 essential fatty acid (EFA) linoleic acid.  It also contains good amounts of the monounsaturate Oleic acid, plus protein, calcium, iron, antioxidants and the Omega 3 EFA alpha-linolenic acid.  Walnuts may help maintain healthy body weight, especially when eaten before a meal. 

Walnuts contain tasty, primrose-yellow coloured oil, rich in polyunsaturates, especially the omega 6 essential fatty acid linoleic acid.  It also contains good amounts of the monounsaturate oleic acid, and some alpha-linolenic acid.  Consumed regularly, walnut oil may support healthy blood vessels, and balanced cholesterol and blood fat levels, important for heart health.  It may also support healthy hormone balance, skin, circulation, nerve function, immunity, brain and joints.

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