Americans consume over 2.5 million tons of walnuts every year. This high demand could be due to walnuts being both delicious and nutritious – they're filled with essential nutrients like calcium, iron, protein, and vitamin B6.
But that's just the start. What makes walnuts really stand out is how great they are for your heart. Walnuts contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids – healthy, important fats essential for a balanced diet. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce the risk of inflammation in the body. Regularly eating walnuts can help lower your risk of developing conditions that come with inflammation. In addition, eating just 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day can help regulate “bad” cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
If that's not enough, walnuts are loaded with vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin. The antioxidant properties in walnuts help fight off the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Plaque development narrows the passage of blood in your circulatory system. This can lead to atherosclerosis, which can lead to a buildup of plaque that can cause cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes.
Even better: Walnuts can even help improve blood circulation in diabetics. A U.S. study suggests that including walnuts in their diets improves the function of their blood vessel walls, thus enhancing their circulatory system's capabilities. (Related: Research consistently finds walnut oil effective against Type 2 diabetes)
Walnuts aren't limited by their ability to protect the heart. It's versatile enough that it can protect other parts of your body. Researchers from Spain suggest eating walnuts at least three times a week to reduce your overall cancer risk by 40 percent, coupled with a 55-percent reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
Another study, this time from the University of Illinois, states that adding walnuts to your diet can improve your gut health: Walnuts are directly linked to an increase in the number of healthy bacteria in your digestive system. One study from the University of Connecticut suggests that regular walnut consumption helps protect against ulcerative colitis, a condition that creates ulcers and inflames the colon and the rectum.
Walnuts have natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can even help the brain, with a study done in Iran indicating that a walnut extract can prevent diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a disease that damages the ability of nerves to communicate with the brain and the spinal cord in people with diabetes.
The research is clear: Regular consumption of walnuts isn't just beneficial for your heart, it's also an essential part of a diet that wants to keep cancer away and keep your digestive system healthy.
If you're looking to grab a handful of walnuts, go for those that are organically certified. If eating them raw isn't to your liking, roasting and seasoning walnuts with honey and sea salt is a possibility, or you could turn your handful of walnuts into a pate.
However you want to eat your walnuts, keep going: Your heart will thank you later.