Can you guess how many food choices you make in a day? Probably a lot! To alleviate the mental gymnastics on deciding what to eat, it is important to find foods that you enjoy eating, support your health and happiness and are versatile.
With unmatched versatility, ability to meet those sweet and savory taste preferences, and nutrients to support better health throughout your life, add walnuts!
Leading health experts who developed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends nuts, such as walnuts, as part of a healthy eating pattern for everyone from children to adults.1
But people might be having trouble eating enough, which could mean missing out on the nutritional and dietary benefits walnuts bring.2
Let’s get to know the nutrients included in walnuts and why they’re included in some of the top eating patterns recommended by health professionals.3
- Walnuts have 18 grams of total fat, including 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fat and 13 grams of polyunsaturated fat; but, walnuts are the only tree nut that provides an excellent source of the plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (2.5 grams/ounce), which research indicates may play a role in heart health, brain health and healthy aging4,5
- A handful of walnuts has a variety of other important nutrients to support overall health including:
- 4 grams of protein
- 2 grams of fiber
- Good source of magnesium (45 milligrams)
Beyond just their nutrients, how else can walnuts support your wellness goals and bring something for every member of your family?
Whether snacked on throughout the day, as part of a plant-based meal, or blended in a smoothie, it doesn’t matter; let’s take a look at the studies discussed below that seem to show enjoying just a small handful walnuts each day (one serving is one ounce) may be linked with a wide range of health and nutrition benefits across the whole family.2,6,7,*
Walnuts could show promise as a “carrier” food linked with other beneficial lifestyle changes.
In a recent study, when people ate walnuts early in adulthood versus other or no nuts at all, they showed a greater likelihood for being more physically active, having a higher quality diet, and experiencing a better heart disease risk profile as they aged into middle adulthood.7
It’s important to say that this current study can’t support cause and effect conclusions about walnuts. In other words, eating walnuts did not cause the outcomes in this study.
However, because people who ate walnuts also reported other beneficial lifestyle changes – you might begin to think about walnuts as a “carrier” of or “bridge” to these healthy behaviors – although further research in the form of randomized controlled trials would be needed first.
These results were based on 20 years of diet history and 30 years of physical and clinical measurements from 3,023 otherwise healthy black and white men and women aged 18-30.
Again, while these results are positive, stronger research studies should be done in other populations and settings to confirm what was found in the current study.
Additionally, some of the findings for heart disease risk in this study were not aligned with previous research.8 This could be due to differences in study design, including how long the studies were of (e.g., several months to 30 years) or amount of nut intake.
At the end of the day, a takeaway from this study is that adding about a handful of walnuts to the diet every day and early on in life may provide a variety of health and nutrition benefits across the lifespan.
Just a small handful of walnuts may support health benefits for the whole family.
Did you know adding one simple food to your daily diet may be able to help you eat more of the nutrients and foods that we know are good for us, but sometimes struggle with?
A recent study suggests walnuts might be able to do just that, and the benefits may ripple out to the whole family!2
Using some advanced mathematical techniques, researchers investigated what would happen if just a small handful of walnuts was added to the daily diet of nearly 8,000 Americans who don’t currently eat nuts.
The study looked at this idea in children, adolescents and adults.
Overall, they found that adding a handful of walnuts made it easier for everyone in the study to eat better. Specifically, here’s what was improved when walnuts were added in:
- Intake of plant-based protein foods
- Higher intakes of nutrients to encourage, such as unsaturated fats, versus nutrients to limit like saturated fats
- Increased intake of under consumed nutrients like fiber and potassium for some groups, as well as folate and magnesium
For parents and guardians, ensuring children and adolescents are getting all the nutrients they need can be challenging.1
This is one of the few studies looking at the typical diet of both children and adults and simulating how the simple addition of walnuts to the diet could help people achieve better nutrition.
While this study presents meaningful findings for people of any age, all the diet information was self-reported, and sometimes, people are not the best at remembering what they ate when this method is used to collect information.
It’s also important to say that the people in this study who did not eat nuts tended to be younger, Hispanic or black and have an annual household income of less than $20,000. This study was not an intervention or feeding trial either, which means the results need to be confirmed in other studies.
As a heart-healthy* snack or part of a meal, the science seems to point to the idea that when walnuts are included in the diet in any way, they help people form good nutrition and lifestyle habits. That’s something you can take with you for life!
As plant-forward diets continue to trend as a popular eating pattern,9 a handful of walnuts are a powerful plant-based food to eat on the go, or as an ingredient to include in a snack or meal.
You can also top salads, soups or morning oatmeal with walnuts and the versatility and deliciousness of walnuts make it a wonderful on-the-go snack in trail mix or simply eaten alone. Try any of the tips below to include walnuts in all your meal occasions!
- Add new plant-forward and kid friendly recipes to a weekly dinner rotation like these Classic Family Night Walnut Tacos or these Walnut Crusted Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce.
- Pair walnuts with a favorite produce item like apples, strawberries, or grapes for a plant-forward snack to fuel the day.
- Include a handful of chopped walnuts in cereal. Not only does this add the perfect crunch, but four grams of plant-based protein!
California Walnuts has a variety of additional recipes on their website to help families reap some big dietary and nutritional benefits from walnuts.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
Spence LA, Henschel B, Li R, Tekwe CD, Thiagarajah K. Adding walnuts to the usual diet can improve diet quality in the United States: Diet modeling study based on NHANES 2015-2018. Nutrients. 2023;15(2):258.
Nutrients in one once of walnuts. California Walnuts website. https://walnuts.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Nutrients-In-1OZ-Handout_Update.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2023.
Sala-Vila A, Fleming J, Kris-Etherton P, Ros E. Impact of α-linolenic acid, the vegetable ω-3 fatty acid, on cardiovascular disease and cognition. Adv Nutr. 2022;13(5):1584-1602.
Sala-Vila A, Valls-Pedret C, Rajaram S, et al. Effect of a 2-year diet intervention with walnuts on cognitive decline. The Walnuts And Healthy Aging (WAHA) study: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nut. 2020;111(3):590–600.
California Walnuts Health Research. California Walnuts website. https://walnuts.org/health-professionals/areas-of-study/. Accessed February 3, 2023.
Steffen LM, Yi SY, Duprez D, Zhou X, Shikany JM, Jacobs DR Jr. Walnut consumption and cardiac phenotypes: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2021;31(1):95-101.
Rajaram S, Cofán M, Sala-Vila A, et al. Effects of Walnut consumption for 2 years on lipoprotein subclasses among healthy elders: Findings from the WAHA randomized controlled trial. Circulation. 2021;144(13):1083-1085.
Webster A. IFIC survey: Consumer viewpoints and purchasing behaviors regarding plant and animal protein. Food Insight website. https://foodinsight.org/plant-and-animal-protein-consumer-survey/. Published January 26, 2021. Accessed February 7, 2023.