Lori Alton via NaturalHealth365 – How can walnuts help someone concerned about heart health issues? Well, the answer may just surprise you.
Heart disease claims the lives of over 655,000 Americans every year, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that someone dies of the condition every 36 seconds. Along with smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and a poor diet – high in unhealthy fats and refined sugar – are major triggers for this killer disease. The good news: simple dietary changes can help lower the risk, and lead to real improvements in heart health.
In fact, researchers and nutritionists have long praised nuts as an example of the type of food that we should eat to reduce heart disease risk. And, walnuts are at the very top of the list, with brand-new research revealing a dramatic connection between daily walnut consumption and improved cardiovascular health.
The Benefits of Walnuts Would Surprise Most Heart Disease Patients
In a trial published just this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 600 healthy adults in their 60s and 70s were told to follow their standard diet for two years – with the only difference being that one group ate between 30 and 60 grams (roughly one to two ounces, or seven to fourteen walnuts) a day in addition to their regular fare.
The study, the largest and longest scientific trial ever conducted on the effects of daily walnut consumption, showed compelling results. The volunteers in the walnut group showed a significant decrease in inflammation, with inflammatory markers in the blood reduced by over 11 percent.
This is significant because – while short-term inflammation is vital for healing wounds and combating infections – chronic, long-term inflammation is believed to be at the root of many diseases, including artery-clogging atherosclerosis.
In fact, walnuts helped to reduce six out of ten notorious proinflammatory cytokines, including interleukin – 1 beta. Researchers say that reducing interleukin-1 is strongly connected with lowered rates of heart disease.
Why Is There Such a Positive Cardiovascular Effect?
While all nuts can improve heart health (in fact, regular nut consumption is associated with a 15 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease – and a 23 percent lower risk of dying from it), researchers are most impressed by the benefits of walnuts.
Earlier research focusing on walnut-enriched diets reveals that they are consistently linked with lower LDL cholesteroland better arterial function. So, what gives walnuts their disease-fighting “edge?”
Of all nuts, walnuts are the highest in desirable monounsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can lower dangerous triglycerides in the blood and reduce atherosclerotic plaque in arteries. They are also linked with improved cognitive health, and may lower risk of depression.
Walnuts contribute omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, with every one-ounce serving of walnuts offering up 2.5 grams. And, researchers report that every gram of alpha-linolenic acid you eat a day lowers the risk of dying of heart disease by an impressive 10 percent!
In addition to being anti-inflammatory, walnuts contain powerful antioxidants, including quercetin and vitamin E. This enables them to gobble up harmful free radicals (reactive oxygen species) that would otherwise cause oxidative damage, potentially triggering heart disease.
Finally, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that walnuts as part of a healthy diet can strongly benefit the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The researchers reported that the walnut group had healthier levels of “friendly” bacteria that help discourage heart disease by promoting healthy blood pressure.
The Surprising Anti-Obesity Benefits of Walnuts
Believe it or not, the benefits of walnuts include a healthier body weight.
At 185 calories per ounce, they are not a classic “diet food.” Yet, they are so nutrient-packed that they are still a caloric bargain.
And, studies have shown that eating several walnuts before meals can, surprisingly, decrease appetite and help ward off overeating. By the way, the study participants who added walnuts to their usual daily diets did not gain weight as a result.
A one-ounce serving of walnuts also contributes half the RDA of a disease-fighting trace mineral called manganese – along with copper, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin K, which has been shown to help to prevent atherosclerosis.
Walnuts are also high in dietary fiber, which helps cleanse toxins and carcinogens from the body. In fact, a recent Harvard study showed that walnuts could help prevent colorectal cancer.
The BIG Question: How Many Walnuts Are Enough?
Most natural health experts recommend eating a small handful of walnuts a day. For maximum benefit, opt for unshelled organic walnuts and crack them yourself. If wielding a nutcracker isn’t your “thing,” buying shelled halves is a good alternative.
Walnuts can be enjoyed raw, sprouted or lightly roasted – but avoid commercially prepared walnuts packaged or roasted in oil. With their rich, buttery taste and satisfying consistency, walnuts can be enjoyed out of hand as a convenient snack, or sprinkled throughout oatmeal, salads and yogurt.
Incidentally, historians tell us that walnuts were once so prized that they were reserved for Persian kings. Fortunately, you don’t have to be of royal descent to access the cardioprotective benefits of walnuts these days.