The exceptional nutrient profile of nuts, including walnuts, is hard to ignore. They are an excellent source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, plant protein and antioxidants, not to mention potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese.
Numerous studies have shown that including nuts in your diet can guard against heart disease. One of the largest studies to date on the subject, from Harvard University, found that men who ate nuts at least twice a week were 47 percent less likely to die from a heart attack, compared to men who rarely or never consumed nuts.
The on-going U.S. Nurses' Health Study turned up similar results; women who consumed 5 ounces (140 grams) of nuts each week were 35 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack compared to women who avoided eating nuts.
Walnuts may help guard against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Walnuts deliver plant-based omega-3's
Walnuts deserve special recognition for their exceptional content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that's been linked to a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes. One-quarter cup serving of English walnuts contains 2.3 grams of ALA. (Women require 1.1 grams of ALA per day; men need 1.6 grams of the fatty acid.)
Control portion size to prevent calorie overload
Walnuts, like all nuts, come with one drawback: they're high in calories. A food guide serving of walnuts, ¼ cup (60 ml) or roughly 14 halves, delivers 166 calories. Measure out one serving of walnuts to keep your portion size in check. To prevent weight gain, substitute walnuts for less healthy foods in your diet, such as chips, soft drinks, candy or cookies.
Nutrient information per ¼ cup (60 ml) English walnut halves (about 14 halves):
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
English walnuts and black walnuts are the two main varieties of walnuts.
The majority of walnuts grown in North America for eating are the English variety, a type native to the Middle East. English walnuts are favoured for their relatively thin shell that is easy to crack as well as their mild taste.
Black walnuts have a very tough shell; often the nut cannot be extracted in one piece. Black walnuts also tend to have a slighter stronger and more robust flavour.
Most walnuts in Canada come from California where they're harvested from late August through November. When buying walnuts in the shell, look for those that are heavy for their size and free of any cracks or holes.
When buying shelled walnuts, look for nuts that are plump, meaty and crisp. Avoid any nuts that have an off, or rancid, smell to them.
Maintain the freshness of shelled walnuts by storing them in the fridge of freezer. Exposure to light, heat or moisture will reduce the shelf life of walnuts. Due to their naturally high fat content, walnuts are susceptible to going rancid, resulting in an off taste and smell.
Store walnuts away from foods with strong odours, such as onions, as walnuts can absorb the flavours of other foods.
Walnuts are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from halves and pieces to a coarse meal. Walnuts don’t require any preparation, and can be eaten straight from the shell. However, chopping and toasting walnuts adds to their culinary versatility.
To chop walnuts
Spread walnuts evenly on a large chopping board. Using a very sharp knife, chop walnuts by keeping the tip of the knife relatively stationary against the board. Move the handle of the knife up and down, moving from side to side until you have the desired size. Alternatively, place walnuts in a food processor and pulse until desired size.
To toast walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Evenly spread walnuts in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Place in oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until walnuts are light brown and fragrant. Keep a close eye on them, as walnuts can burn very easily.
Thanks to their sweet taste and crunchy texture, walnuts pair well with many types of dishes. They're particularly tasty with cheese, fresh fruit and leafy green salads.
Healthy ways to enjoy:
- Sprinkle chopped walnuts over a bowl of hot oatmeal. Add diced apple and a dash of cinnamon.
- Top a Greek yogurt off with toasted walnuts and fresh berries.
- Add chopped walnuts to pancake, walnut and muffin batters. Click here for a recipe.
- Skip the croutons. Instead, add toasted walnuts to a green or spinach salad.
- Garnish a bowl of squash or pumpkin soup with candied walnuts. Click here for a recipe.
- Add coarsely chopped walnuts to ground chicken or turkey for an omega-3 enriched burger or meatloaf.
- Stir chopped walnuts into brown rice or quinoa pilafas.
- Add chopped walnuts to turkey stuffing.
- Toss walnuts with unsweetened coconut flakes, honey and cayenne pepper for a tasty snack. Click here for a recipe.
- Make your own trail mix by combining walnuts, almonds, dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips and rolled oats. Click here for a recipe.
- Leave a bowl of unshelled walnuts on the table with nutcrackers when entertaining for the holidays.
Did you know?
- Black walnuts are native to North America, while English walnuts are native to the Middle East.
- China is currently the largest commercial producer of walnuts in the world. Other countries that produce walnuts include the U.S and Turkey.