Are Walnuts the New Superfood?

In an era where the spinach has e.coli and the fish are laced with mercury, it’s hard to be a health food. But walnuts may just be the new superfood on the horizon. It seems that walnuts – that same food you chop up and put into your fattening brownies – can actually help prevent heart disease.

You may have heard the phrase “hardening of the arteries,” but what does it really mean? Doctors say that every time we eat a fatty meal, our arteries become inflamed. Over time, that can cause our arteries to be less flexible as we age. This lack of elasticity, or “hardening” if you will, contributes to heart disease and blockages.

But new studies show that walnuts can help prevent or slow down this process. “Walnuts contain natural chemicals that help prevent hardening of the arteries, making them less prone to becoming blocked,” said Dr. Emilio Ros, of the Hospital Clinico in Barcelona and lead researcher of the study.

Experimental groups eating a fatty meal were asked to follow it with either five teaspoons of olive oil or a handful of shelled walnuts. Both the olive oil and the walnuts helped prevent sudden oxidation and inflammation of the arteries. But walnuts helped more.

Researchers used ultra-sound to show that the flexibility of the arteries of the walnut eaters was actually preserved – the olive oil didn’t do that.

This may be because walnuts contain a high concentration of an important amino-acid known as arginine. Arginine is a necessary ingredient to keeping our arteries flexible and healthy. But that’s not the only thing walnuts have that make it a potential superfood. Walnuts are also rich in anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acid. Plus, walnuts are tasty.

Admittedly, more studies will need to be done before we can add walnuts to our list of superfoods. This is especially the case since the California Walnut Board helped fund the study, and we should take it with a grain of salt. It’s also not clear whether or not cooking the walnuts change their heart-healthy properties. Moreover, even though the researchers recommended eating about eight walnuts a day, their study showed that the beneficial effects were realized by eating walnuts immediately after a fatty meal. Whether or not the same benefit applies when eating walnuts randomly during the day has not yet been established.

But when you’re baking this holiday season, you may want to load those brownies up with plenty of walnuts. You might be blessing someone’s heart on every level!