I wanted a food with a Christmas theme for this month’s Food Focus and what better than walnuts? Walnuts have been long associated with Christmas; certainly in my house we always had a bowl of them to crack open and nibble on whenever we were peckish in between all the other festive eating!
While walnuts, like other nuts, are high in fat so should be consumed in moderation, they are otherwise a very healthy food and a powerhouse of nutrients. Have you ever noticed that walnuts look like little brains? Well it just so happens they are also good for the brain! This is an example of what ancient herbalists called the Doctrine of Signatures: a theory that said foods were beneficial for the health of the body parts they resembled. Of course, there is no scientific basis for this, but coincidentally walnuts do happen to be good for our brain health as well as other aspects of health, as discussed further below. It’s been found that a diet rich in walnuts can improve memory and motor development and could even protect against Alzheimer’s Disease.
Read on for some more walnutty facts!
Why are walnuts good for you?
Rich in beneficial fats. Although walnuts, like other nuts, are high in fat, the vast majority of the fats are ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats, used by the body for brain function, hormone production and cellular signaling. Polyunsaturated fats have been found to lower cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease when eaten in place of saturated fats. While overall fat intake should be kept within moderation, the sort of fats found in walnuts is definitely the good sort.
Rich source of omega 3. Walnuts contain a higher ratio of omega 3 essential fatty acids than other nuts, helping reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can drive numerous health issues so increasing omega 3 is almost always beneficial.
Source of protein. Protein slows the release of sugar into the blood, helping avoid blood sugar spikes and subsequent energy slumps. A portion of protein should be included with all meals and snacks; walnuts are a great option and contain all the essential amino acids too.
Rich source of vitamins and minerals. Walnuts are a good source of B vitamins and magnesium which help resistance to stress and support energy production. They are a source of zinc which is good for the immune system (important over the winter months) and for the health of our skin, hair, brain and nerves. They are a very rich source of manganese which has been found to help protect against infection. They are a source of vitamin E, one of our antioxidants.
What can I do with walnuts?
Here are some ideas on how to incorporate walnuts into your diet:
- Have a small handful of walnuts as a snack, either on their own or with a piece of fresh fruit
- Add to your morning porridge, overnight oats or to some natural yoghurt and fruit to add protein and good fats to your breakfast
- Lightly fry vegetables like courgettes, leeks and/or mushrooms, add a handful of walnuts and serve with wholewheat pasta with a drizzle of olive oil or a teaspoon of pesto and plenty of seasoning for a super quick and easy midweek supper
- Add to salads for crunch, protein and good fats
- Use in a festive lentil and walnut loaf for a plant-based Christmas dinner. My favourite recipe is from the Oh She Glows cookbook and you can get the recipe here.