It’s no secret that walnuts have been highlighted thanks to the evolving research that continues to show their numerous health benefits. From heart and gut health to cognition, walnuts’ powers seem to positively affect numerous areas of our health. Even the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlighted that nuts like walnuts should be included in the diets of adults and kids alike due to their stellar nutrient profile.
Since science continues to explore what this nut can do, nutrition experts are sharing the latest and greatest health benefits of walnuts below (with some tasty tips on how to enjoy them).
Walnuts are filled with good-for-you unsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, that have shown promise in reducing inflammation and supporting heart health, cognition and mental health. But that’s not all these tasty nuts are good for. Here’s the nutrient profile just a 1-ounce serving of walnuts provides:
Health Benefits of Walnuts
Walnuts have shown promise in heart health for years thanks to their antioxidant content, but emerging research suggests eating this nut may help bridge nutrient gaps among adults and kids alike. Other research supports their benefits for gut health, memory, mood, blood sugar, reproductive health benefits and more. Read on to get the full scoop.
Supports Heart Health
While most nuts are considered heart-healthy, walnuts are Heart-Check Certified by the American Heart Association, meaning they meet the organization’s criteria for being a “heart-healthy food.” This includes being low in sodium, saturated fat and trans fat and containing at least 10% of the Daily Value for vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber.
Heart-healthy foods can positively impact your lipid panel, meaning they often help decrease the “bad cholesterol”, like LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. And the research supports this. Not only do decades of research show the heart-health benefits of walnuts, but newer research echoes these findings. A 2021 study published in Circulation found that older adults who consumed about two servings of walnuts a day for two years lowered their LDL cholesterol levels. High LDL cholesterol levels can lead to atherosclerosis, which is plaque buildup in your blood vessels that can increase the risk for stroke or heart attack over time. New York-based registered dietitian Samina Kalloo, RDN, CDN, shares, “Walnuts’ rich polyphenol content fights (this type of) inflammation and oxidative stress.”
May Improve Gut Health
The latest research surrounding gut health has shown just how trendy this nut is when it comes to the world of biotics, prebiotics to be exact. A 2023 review published in Antioxidants shared that walnuts have the potential to act as a prebiotic by serving as a source of “food” for the beneficial microbes in your gastrointestinal system. While more research is needed in this area, the findings suggest that consuming walnuts as part of a healthy diet may help lower inflammation and support gut health. Since we do know that prebiotics help nourish probiotics that then confer positive benefits on the host (aka you), this research reinforces the beneficial properties of walnuts linked to their polyphenol content. Walnut polyphenols are metabolized by gut microbiota to create bioactive, anti-inflammatory compounds. And adding more walnuts to your diet can help you reap these benefits for your digestive health.
Helps Improve Memory and Cognitive Health
Thanks in large part to their omega-3 fatty acid content, “Walnuts contain nutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which can [help] combat oxidative stress and ultimately delay or reduce the progression of cognitive decline”, shares Kalloo. Research—both animal and human—reported in a 2020 study published in Nutrients showed that consuming walnuts had positive effects on memory and brain functioning. Snacking on a serving (or two) of this brain-shape nut may be the trick to reducing inflammation and keeping those free radicals at bay. This is important since free radicals can damage cells and lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia over time.
Promotes Diet Quality Among Adults and Kids Alike
New research published in 2023 in the journal Nutrients found that adding just a small handful of walnuts to the diet of children, adolescents and adults increased the consumption of better-for-you fats and under-consumed nutrients like potassium, magnesium, fiber and folate. “What’s interesting about this study,” shares culinary dietitian and cookbook author Wendy Jo Peterson, M.S., RDN, “is that Americans are constantly being told what they need to nix from their diet to be healthier. This study showed that a simple addition to one’s diet may not only help bridge nutrient gaps, but also help families across the board increase their intakes of plant-based foods as well.”
May Reduce Stress and Improve Mental Health
“Walnuts are rich in neuro-supportive compounds including melatonin, folate, vitamin E and polyphenols—all of which can be beneficial for mental health,” shares Kalloo. A 2022 study published in Nutrients revealed that eating about two servings of walnuts a day for 16 weeks improved self-reported levels of stress and depression, aided in a longer period of sleep, and improved overall mental health. Plus, their results found that consuming walnuts led to improvements in the microbiome as well.
May Help Manage Blood Sugar
“The combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats in walnuts can help to stabilize blood sugar levels,” shares Kalloo. This can be especially important when it comes to management of type 2 diabetes. A 2023 review published in Nutrients showed that a higher total intake of nuts, including walnuts, was associated with a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. It’s also important to remember one’s risk for heart disease and other conditions increases with diabetes. Grabbing walnuts is a great way to reap the benefits of the omega-3s that can help improve heart health, too.
Tips for Including Walnuts in a Healthy Diet
A great way to make it easier to eat more walnuts is by simply having them on hand. Be sure to add both roasted and raw walnuts to your kitchen staples, and consider trying them out in these nutritious and delicious ways that Kalloo and Peterson recommend:
- Toss a handful of walnuts into salad as a swap for croutons, or use them to top a veggie stir-fry.
- Fold chopped walnuts into the batter of pancakes, muffins or quick breads for the added health benefits.
- Mix chopped walnuts into unsweetened yogurt or your morning oatmeal and add fresh fruit for natural sweetness.
- If you are looking to cut back on your meat consumption, Peterson suggests swapping roughly chopped walnuts for ½ pound of ground beef in chili, tacos or spaghetti sauce. Our Celeriac and Walnut Tacos are a great place to start.
- Crush walnuts and swap them for traditional breadcrumbs in recipes like our Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many walnuts should you eat in a day?
A serving of walnuts is roughly 1 ounce, or about ¼ cup. However, some studies suggest eating 1.5 to 2 ounces may be beneficial to reap the health benefits walnuts offer. With this in mind, and considering walnuts are calorically dense, Kalloo recommends aiming for a handful daily to reap their many health benefits.
2. What happens if I eat walnuts every day?
Eating walnuts on a daily basis poses little to no harm unless you have a food sensitivity, intolerance or allergy. With that said, replacing less nutrient-dense foods with nutrient-dense options, like walnuts, may help you achieve your health goals. Who knows, you may experience a boost in your mood, too.
3. Which nut is best for memory?
While other nuts like almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios have shown promising results in memory improvements in the literature, walnuts continue to reign supreme when it comes to cognitive health. A 2020 review published in Nutrients shows that the inclusion of walnuts in a diet positively affects cognitive performance and memory improvement in adults.
The Bottom Line
Unless you have a food allergy or intolerance to walnuts, nutrition experts advise including this stellar nut in your regular eating pattern. From recent research highlighting the role walnuts play in gut health to the long-standing reviews that show heart health, cognitive health and mood benefits, there are many positives to consuming this nut. If you’re adjusting to the walnut-y taste, consider trying it with familiar favorites like these Classic Fudge Walnut Brownies or a simple side like our Blue Cheese-Walnut Green Beans.
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