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Some people say walnuts look like a brain. Could these tree nuts really be brain food? And what are their other benefits?

Health benefits

Emerging research shows that walnuts may enhance your thinking and memory function, thanks to their abundant source of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols like ellagic acid that protect the tiny blood vessels in your gray matter. Indeed, walnuts contain twice as many polyphenols as other nuts! These are predominantly found in their thin brown skin, called the pellicle.

If cholesterol is your concern, incorporating a handful of walnuts in your daily diet will help lower your cholesterol and protect you against heart attack.

Walnuts are also a good source of the amino acid arginine, which gets converted to nitric oxide, helping the blood vessels throughout your body to relax and remain flexible. They are the only nut with a significant content of plant omega-3, called ALA, which tones down inflammation in your body to stem chronic disease.

To put it into perspective, the daily requirement of ALA is 1,300 milligrams (mg), and an ounce of walnuts gives you 1,884 mg of ALA.

If you have diabetes, walnuts will dampen rises in your blood sugar level if you eat them with your carbohydrate foods. Their substantial protein and fiber level can also assist with weight control, and contrary to popular opinion, people who regularly eat nuts don’t have thicker waistlines.

Six ways to use walnuts

  • Sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal each morning.
  • Use them to reduce or exchange for meat in savory dishes.
  • Toss walnuts into your salads.
  • Add them to healthy muffins or cakes when baking.
  • Pulverize them to create dips.
  • Top them on yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

Enjoy an ounce of walnuts every day. Choose those that look plump with a light skin color, or shell your own if you want real freshness. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze them to extend their shelf life.

Nutritionist Sue Radd is the award-winning author of The Breakfast Book and coauthor of Eat to Live, internationally acclaimed for showing how savvy eating can combat cancer and heart disease and improve wellbeing. See for more nutrition information.

Food Matters: Wild About Walnuts

by Sue Radd
From the December 2015 Signs