By Diana Kelly And Sarah Klein January 6, 2016
Serious snackers know there’s nothing like a good nut, and science agrees: Adding walnuts to your diet—even just a handful—has a whole host of benefits.
They can lower your cholesterol.
About a handful of walnuts, or 2 ounces, was linked to lowering total cholesterol numbers and LDL or “bad” cholesterol as well as improved blood vessel cell wall function in a recent study of 112 people between the ages of 25 and 75. The people randomized in the study to enjoy that daily snack saw improvements to their overall diets, compared with those randomized to go without walnuts. Added bonus: When they also were given a little dietary counseling, their waistlines shrank. Walnuts are loaded with monounsaturated fats, including known heart protectors omega-3 fatty acids.
They can improve your memory.
A 2012 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function. The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
They can reduce inflammation.
You’ve likely heard of the inflammation-fighting powers of those all-mighty omega-3s. And while the most powerful of them all—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—come from fish, the plant variety, alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, shouldn’t be totally written off. Walnuts are one of the richest sources of ALA, which may not carry all the health effects of its fishy compatriots but does still seem to fight inflammation. Experts think a diet higher in omega-3s may simply mean we’re not eating as many inflammation-provoking omega-6 fatty acids.
They tackle PMS symptoms.
Just an ounce of walnuts—that’s about 14 halves, if you want to get ultra specific—contains nearly 50% of your daily recommended intake of a mineral called manganese and about 11% of your allotment for the day of magnesium. Both have been examined in preliminary research that suggests they can help temper some of your worst PMS symptoms, including mood swings, insomnia, stomach discomfort, and low back pain.
Earlier research suggests this mineral magic might be due to the way levels of both naturally fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.
They can lower blood pressure.
In studies of how people respond to stressful situations—like plunging your foot into an ice bath or delivering a speech in front of your peers—those who eat walnuts seem to have lower blood pressure, both in response to that stress and when not under stress. Since walnut oil, as well as flax oil, produced similar results, researchers believe the perks may be due to that same ALA that reduces inflammation, this time exerting its do-good properties on BP.
The best news: Getting an additional ounce of walnuts a day happens to be crazy easy. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, likes to add chopped walnuts to her oatmeal, sprinkle them on salads, add them to a bread-crumb crust for fish or chicken, and throw walnut halves in the blender with her smoothies after soaking them in water.
More of a baked goods lover (and really, who isn’t)? Enjoying walnuts in baked items like banana bread still has health benefits and could help with critical thinking, according to research in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study found that eating half a cup of walnuts per day (ground up in banana bread!) for 8 weeks led to an 11.2% increase in inferential reasoning skills (the ability to deduce info based on prior experiences) among college students.
To keep shelled nuts from going rancid, store them in the fridge for up to a month or in the freezer for up to a year.