Walnuts trace their origins in many places, though it is common knowledge that the earliest were Persian where the health benefits of walnuts were thought to be well known. Walnuts are believed to have been cultivated as far back as 7000 B.C. in the humid regions surrounding the Caspian Sea. Today, California walnuts are some of the highest quality nuts around; in fact, almost 90 percent of the United States’ walnut production grows right in California. Currently, the U.S. ranks as second-highest walnut producer in the world, only to China.
Walnut Types: Take Your Pick
You have probably encountered at least one of three types of walnuts: the English walnut, the black walnut, and the white walnut, or the butternut. These white walnuts are more difficult to find in traditional grocery stores, but feature a sweet taste and oily texture. The English, or Persian, walnut is the most common to find in marketplaces and bears the traditional shell that can be broken with a nutcracker. Black walnuts are native to America, grown specifically in the southern U.S., and possess a rich, smoky flavor.
If you are interested in the health benefits of walnuts and how you can introduce them into your diet, you might have noticed that some recipes call for either black or English walnuts while your cupboard only has one or the other. Not to worry; structurally, both walnuts are quite similar. Recipes that call for black walnuts usually do so to take advantage of their smoky, wine flavor. However, if you merely want to add some crunch to your salad or a baking recipe, you can use either walnut without fear of disaster.
Health Benefits of Walnuts
Some people hold the notion that all nuts are the same. This is especially untrue for walnuts; these unique nuts are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids-both omega-3 and omega-6-while nearly every other nut is composed predominantly of monounsaturated fats. Moreover, walnuts are the only nut with a significant quantity of ALA, a seed oil that must be acquired through diet. Raw walnuts also have a remarkably high level of antioxidants.
Aside from being a tasty treat, walnuts are notoriously beneficial to your heart and circulatory system. Walnuts assist in lowering cholesterol, which improves blood quality, and they help decrease the risks of excessive clotting and inflammation in blood vessels. As a reliable source of omega-3, walnuts repeatedly assist in the improvement of many cardiovascular functions, even countering high blood pressure.
Studies suggest that raw walnuts can increase fat oxidation and reduce carbohydrate oxidation, leading to a healthier use of body fat in adults. In 2006, a report published by ScienceDaily stated that eating a handful of raw walnuts with meals high in saturated fat appeared to limit short-term damage to the arteries. Of course, eating walnuts will not absolve all health risks that come with eating unhealthy food, but they are a worthy addition to any diet.
Walnuts Join Pursuit of The Cancer Cure
Along with their cardiovascular benefits, walnuts are now receiving attention from researchers with respect to their role in reducing the risks of prostate and breast cancer. In 2009, the American Association for Cancer Research was presented with a U.S. study that demonstrated decreased tumor sizes in mice that consumed the human equivalent of two ounces of walnuts per day. Although the study was conducted on mice, the walnut’s ability to reduce endothelin levels and decrease the inflammation of blood vessels will surely prove beneficial to cancer patients whose endothelin levels are higher than normal.
Selecting and Storing Your Walnuts
Picking walnuts is a fairly straightforward process. For whole walnuts, choose walnuts that feel heavier for their size, ensure that the shell is intact, without any piercing or cracks, and discard any that appear stained, as this can be a sign of molding nutmeat. Shelled walnuts are often ready to buy in packs or containers. With these, simply have a look over how fresh the walnuts appear. Steer clear of shriveled or rubbery walnuts and, if you can, take a quick sniff just to make sure your walnuts have not spoiled before you have bought them.
They are perishable but, if stored properly, the health benefits of walnuts and their nutrients will keep as long as six months to a year. The best way to maintain your walnuts’ flavor is to keep them cold. If you plan on using your walnuts within a month, you can store them in the refrigerator. For longer storage, the freezer is your best option. Walnuts are capable of absorbing flavors from other foods; so make sure to store them in airtight containers away from foods that have strong odors.
As a tip for your health and your taste buds, save chopping or shelling your walnuts until you would like to use them. Not only do they lose flavor, but the polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts oxidize quickly when exposed to heat or air. Keep your walnuts healthy and fresh from the minute you buy them by storing them properly.
Enjoying Walnuts is a Piece of Cake
There are more than a handful of walnut-praising recipes available, but often the easiest way to include this healthy nut into your food routine is just to throw it over your favorite dish! English walnuts and maple syrup make a delectable a topping drizzled over yoghurts. Try your favorite vegetables sauté with some chopped black walnuts for a tasty new experience. Walnuts also make a delightful addition to any traditional stuffing recipe. Here are a few helpful measures for estimating walnut weights in recipes.
- A single walnut half = Two grams
- One ounce of walnuts = 14 halves
- One cup of walnuts, chopped or pieced = 120 grams
- One cup of shelled walnuts = 100 grams, or 50 halves
Treat yourself to a banana-nut muffin for breakfast, or get creative by incorporating ground walnuts into a variety of sauces at dinnertime. Parsley-walnut sauce, walnut-lemon vinaigrette, and cranberry-walnut marmalade are just a few fantastic starts for your walnut-infused diet.
If you suffer from tree nut allergies, it is likely to be healthier for you to stay away from walnuts. Despite their health benefits, allergic reactions to proteins found in walnuts and other tree nuts can include hives, rashes, itching, swelling, breathing difficulties, severe drops in blood pressure, as well as other life-threatening symptoms. If you are concerned about whether you are allergic to tree nuts, consult a doctor before adding walnuts to your diet.
They are called the heart healthy nut and are packed full of anti-oxidants and nutrients but the health benefits of walnuts are complementary to their delicious taste whether you prefer them in cakes, brownies or topping salads.
Jeff Andrews writes about the many common foods that are beneficial to your health.