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Walnuts: A Healthy Choice

Walnuts are nutritional powerhouses, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, antioxidants, and other beneficial ingredients. Nutrients found in walnuts help to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, gallstones, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Although all nuts provide health benefits, a recent study found that walnuts are the richest in antioxidants (American Chemical Society, 2011).

According to the George Mateljan Foundation (2012), nearly 95% of people don’t eat any tree nuts at all, which is unfortunate because those who do eat nuts consume significantly more fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium than their nut-avoiding counterparts. Research indicates that walnuts are also good for weight loss due to their unique nutritional profile and because they provide a feeling of fullness that reduces the likelihood of cravings. In addition, animal studies suggest that walnuts may improve memory and overall cognition, though human tests are required to determine whether or not people enjoy the same benefits.

Although they’re harvested in the winter, walnuts store well, so they can be eaten year-round. Shelled walnuts can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to six months or the freezer where they will typically last for a year. Unshelled walnuts can be kept in the fridge or stored in a dry, dark, cool place for six months.

Walnuts are particularly good in salads, lentil dishes, poultry stuffing, granola, and baked goods, though a creative cook can add them successfully to many different dishes. A quick and easy way to incorporate walnuts into your daily diet is to add crushed or chopped walnuts and maple syrup to plain yogurt for a healthy treat.  Most of the beneficial phenols are in the skin of walnuts (the whitish outer covering), so leave this on to maintain their full nutritional value.

Concerns have been raised about composting walnut hulls due to the fact that their juglone content may harm other garden plants. However, a recent study has shown that after a year of composting, they make a fine soil amendment (Pleasant, 2008), though it’s a good idea to add them sparingly to the compost pile to be on the safe side.

American Chemical Society, “Walnuts Are Top Nut for Heart-Healthy Antioxidants,” ScienceDaily, 28 March 2011.
George Mateljan Foundations, “Walnuts,” World’s Healthiest Foods, 2012.
Pleasant, B., “Can You Compost Black Walnut Hulls?Mother Earth News, 19 November 2008.

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