Most days I eat a handful of nuts. I think they’re delicious, satiating, and nutritious. However, as a nutritionist, I often find that in my work with women, there’s a huge resistance to including nuts into an eating repertoire.
Nuts get a bad rap because of their high fat and calorie content—especially with women who’ve been influenced by a diet culture that often vilifies fat as being fattening. Scientific research doesn’t support the idea that nuts are fattening; on the contrary, nuts get a big thumbs up for health, especially heart health. For vegans and vegetarians (and non fish eaters) who don’t get omega-3 fats from oily fish, walnuts can be a really useful source of these essential fats in the form of α-linolenic acid.
A study published last year looked into the effect of daily walnut consumption on cardiac risk in overweight adults with signs of metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. An individual is considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following:
- Excess abdominal obesity (carrying weight around the stomach, as measured by waist circumference)
- High triglyceride levels (blood fats)
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes
The participants were randomly assigned to eat a diet rich in walnuts or a diet without walnuts for eight weeks. This was followed by a 4-week rest period, and then the participants switched diets for another eight weeks. Results showed that eating 56g of walnuts (about a half cup) a day for eight weeks significantly improved the blood vessel function in the participants and did not lead to weight gain despite the fact that this represented about 350 calories of nuts.
Eating more walnuts was even associated with a decline in waist circumference. The authors of the study concluded that walnuts probably have a role in protecting against diabetes and heart disease in at-risk individuals.
Another study found that walnuts and flaxseeds (also high in α-linolenic acid) can improve central obesity (excess fat tissue around the waist) and reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, a third study found that, in participants with metabolic syndrome, eating a breakfast with walnuts increased satiety and a sense of fullness before lunchtime.
Some people really struggle to make dramatic changes in the way they eat; it can feel overwhelming. However, adding a single food, such as walnuts, might be easier to implement. Walnuts are highly nutritious, rich in minerals such as zinc and magnesium, and also satiating, probably due to their protein and fiber content. Adding walnuts to your diet can have the unintended effect of removing less nutritious foods from your diet, making you healthier.