If you’re a paleo diet lover, nuts are the perfect food. High protein and high fat with very few carbs. But do they have other benefits outside of the right ratio of protein, fats, and carbs? Let’s talk walnuts this morning…
Health Benefits of Walnuts: One of Nature’s True Power Foods
Why are walnuts so healthy, and what makes them a true power food? Walnuts are natural, nutrient-dense, a good source of protein, and rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. In fact, walnuts contain that ideal omega-6:omega-3 healthy ratio of 4 to 1, which one study suggests is critical for keeping arthritis pain in check. In addition, for those who are keto or paleo focused, walnuts are low in carbohydrates, so grabbing a handful for a late-afternoon snack or tossing a few into the blender with your morning yogurt smoothie will help fill you up without exceeding those carb limits.
In addition to being a natural power food, walnuts have been shown to help with health maintenance by curbing the appetite. Interestingly, the method of action by which walnuts help control appetite is via the part of the brain—the insula—responsible not only for hunger but also for cravings. How does this work? Walnuts activate the insula, which signals we’re full and tempers our cravings. In other words, you should be able to squelch that late-night Snickers craving with a handful of walnuts and reap a long list of the health benefits of walnuts as you do so.
In addition, walnuts (and other tree nuts) have been linked to a lower risk of all-cause death (death from any cause) as well as benefits in brain health and lowered risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer, and heart disease.
What About Walnuts and the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms in intestines. Gut health makes the rounds on this blog regularly because it’s such a critical component to health, not just in the digestive system but throughout the whole body. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the gut doesn’t just stay in the gut! Studies have linked the condition of the gut to every system in the human body. So taking care of your gut is imperative to good health, and making walnuts a regular part of the diet has been shown, in a rat study, to help those healthy gut bacteria thrive.
Now a new study furthers the findings on walnuts and a healthy gut microbiome, this time in a human population. Let’s review.
Walnuts Feed the “Good Guys” in Our Gut
The purpose of the new study was to investigate how walnuts impacted the gut microbiome of human subjects in a randomized controlled trial. The subjects were randomized into a walnut group (42 grams of walnuts per day) and a control group (0 grams of walnuts). After three weeks and a one-week break, all of the subjects crossed over into the opposite group for another three weeks, and findings were compared between the control and walnut periods and analyzed.
The results? Compared to control periods (no walnuts), researchers found significantly higher (49–160%) amounts of healthy Clostridium and Roseburia bacteria in the gut, which help maintain proper gut function and prevent dysbiosis (microbe imbalance in the gut). Other findings included a reduction in certain proinflammatory bile acids in the walnut-consumption periods as well as lower LDL cholesterol, commonly referred to as the “bad cholesterol” (7% lower when compared to control periods), which could potentially explain the link between walnuts and the lowered risk of heart disease.
The upshot? It’s nuts how hard it is to find walnuts in the store aisles. There are peanuts, cashews, almonds, and even macadamia nuts, but walnuts are usually hidden on the baking aisle. Looks like it’s time to move those walnuts up the health-food ladder and away from the Crisco and cupcake mixes!