Back in 1993, the original Walnut Study from Loma Linda University made headlines around the world and was published in the NewEngland Journal of Medicine.
Why all the excitement? Because Loma Linda University had broken new ground. They were the first to find that walnuts in a controlled diet reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and heart disease risk significantly more than the Step 1 diet that was then recommended by the American Heart Association. In other words - they proved, scientifically, that food really can be your medicine.
In April 2000, another landmark walnut study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study, a follow-up to the 1993 Loma Linda study, was conducted at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona. Researchers had 49 men and women with high cholesterol incorporate walnuts into a healthy Mediterranean diet, substituting a handful of walnuts a day for some of the monounsaturated fat in the diet.
Participants lowered their "bad" LDL cholesterol by almost 6 per cent and heart disease risk by 11 per cent beyond what would be expected from the Mediterranean diet alone.
The Loma Linda study participants substituted walnuts, one of nature's richest sources of polyunsaturated fat, for saturated fat. The Barcelona participants substituted walnuts for another healthy fat.
Barcelona scientists also remarked on the ease of incorporating walnuts into the diet. According to researcher Juan Carlos Laguna, Ph.D., "That's the main point of the study. You eat a normal amount, like five or six walnuts a day. That's something you can do every day without any problem."
Adding walnuts to your diet can be an important step in improving your cardiovascular health. Walnuts are an important source of monounsaturated fats-approximately 15% of the fat found in walnuts is healthful monounsaturated fat. A host of studies have shown that increasing the dietary intake of monounsaturated-dense walnuts has favorable effects on high cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. One particular study compared the effects of a cholesterol-lowering Mediterranean diet with an adjusted Mediterranean diet in which 35% of the calories derived from monounsaturated fats came from walnuts. When following the walnut-rich diet,
the 49 study participants were found to have lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL (the dangerous form) cholesterol and Lp(a) ("lipoprotein a," another lipid compound that increases blood clotting and, when elevated, is considered a risk factor for atherosclerosis).
In addition to their heart-protective monounsaturated fats, walnuts' concentration of omega-3 essential fatty acids is also responsible for the favorable effects walnut consumption produces on cardiovascular risk factors. Omega-3s benefit the cardiovascular system by helping to prevent erratic heart rhythms, making blood less likely to clot inside arteries (which is the proximate cause of most heart attacks), and improving the ratio of good (HDL) cholesterol to potentially harmful (LDL) cholesterol. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the
processes that turn cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques.
Since walnuts contain relatively high levels of l-arginine, an essential amino acid, they may also be of special import when it comes to hypertension. In the body (specifically within those hard-working blood vessels), l-arginine is converted into nitric oxide, a chemical that helps keep the inner walls of blood vessels smooth and allows blood vessels to relax. Since individuals with hypertension have a harder time maintaining normal nitric oxide levels, which may also relate to other significant health issues such as diabetes and heart problems, walnuts can serve as a great addition to their diets. A study published in Phytochemistry sheds further light on walnuts' cardioprotective benefits. Earlier research had already suggested that several polyphenolic compounds found in walnuts, specifically ellagic and gallic acid, possessed antioxidant activity sufficient to inhibit free radical damage to LDL cholesterol. In this new study, researchers identified 16 polyphenols, including three new tannins, with antioxidant activity so protective they describe it as "remarkable."
Walnut Serving Ideas:
Mix crushed walnuts into plain yogurt and top with maple syrup. Add walnuts to healthy sautéed vegetables. Walnuts are great in baked goods and breakfast treats. Some of our favorites include zucchini walnut bread, carrot walnut muffins and apple walnut pancakes.
Purée walnuts, cooked lentils and your favorite herbs and spices in a food processor. Add enough olive or flax oil so that it achieves a dip-like consistency.
Sprinkle walnuts onto salads.
Add walnuts to your favorite poultry stuffing recipe.
To roast walnuts at home, do so gently-in a 160-170°F (about 75°C) oven for 15-20 minutes-to
preserve the healthy oils. Make homemade walnut granola: Mix together approximately 1/2 cup of honey, 3 to 4 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses, a tablespoon of vanilla, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon each of your favorite spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg. Place 6-8 cups of rolled oats in a large bowl and toss to coat with the honey-blackstrap mixture. Then spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 275°F(135°C)hure Here for 45 minutes. Cool and mix in 1/2 to 1 cup of walnuts.