Health Benefits of Walnuts: From Unrivaled Antioxidant Power to Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Walnuts are more than just good for you; they are a real superfood with wide-ranging health benefits. Supercharged with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, minerals, B vitamins, and antioxidants, walnuts offer benefits for your skin, brain, and cardiovascular system. These crunchy goodies have also been shown to control androgen-levels in PCOS patients, reduce inflammation, and exert anti-cancer effects in laboratory studies. Below, we delve into details about the health effects of walnuts, providing 7 reasons why everyone should be eating walnuts.
Walnuts Top the List of Antioxidant-Rich Nuts
A study published in The Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Food and Function in 2011 evaluated the antioxidant content and potency of nine types of raw and roasted nuts and two types of peanut butter. Among the tested nuts, walnuts had both the highest levels of antioxidants and the strongest antioxidant capacity, beating common nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios, macadamias, and cashew nuts.
As you may recall, antioxidants are health-protecting compounds that neutralize free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause damage to your body's cells. The cellular damage caused by free radicals has been implicated in the pathogenesis of a wide range of age-related diseases and conditions including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Walnuts: Benefits for the Skin
In addition to providing protection against age-related diseases, the antioxidants in walnuts can also provide benefits for your skin. Free radicals caused by things like excessive exposure to strong sunlight, pollution, and cigarette smoke can break down collagen. Collagen is what makes skin supple and strong, and reduced collagen levels show up as wrinkles and fine lines on the skin. As antioxidants in walnuts scavenge free radicals, less collagen is destroyed and fewer wrinkles are formed.
But walnuts' strong antioxidant properties are hardly their only anti-wrinkle benefit. This superfood provides an abundance of healthy unsaturated fatty acids that help moisturize the skin from the inside out. Furthermore, walnuts pack a protein punch, with one cup of chopped walnuts providing 18 grams of protein (or 36% of the daily value for protein). A sufficient intake of protein is crucial for maintaining youthful skin as it provides amino acids that are essential for the production of new collagen. Finally, walnuts are loaded with a number of B vitamins, including thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, and riboflavin. These vitamins work synergistically in a number of ways to maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails.
A Supefood Packed with Anti-Inflammatory Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Walnut oil is famous for its high omega-3 content, but also whole walnuts are packed with these health-protecting fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to exert strong anti-inflammatory effects, and a high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent or treat inflammatory conditions such as asthma, psoriasis, eczema, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory acne. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to reduce inflammation by acting on a receptor found in fat cells and on pro-inflammatory immune cells called macrophages.
Boost Your Brain Power with Walnuts
Both antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are known to have beneficial effects on brain power, so if you're feeling a bit sluggish, try eating a small handful of walnuts. Also several animal studies have documented the brain health enhancing properties of walnuts. For example, an intriguing walnut study published in the November 2011 issue of the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that rats that were given walnut during the 28-day trial period experienced improvement in their learning capabilities and memory.
Another study analyzing the effects of a diet rich in walnuts on rats found that moderate dietary walnut supplementation can improve both cognitive and motor performance in aged rats. This study appeared in the April 2009 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
Impressive Anti-Cancer Properties
A study published in the January 2010 issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology found walnut extracts to be capable of inhibiting the growth of human kidney and colon cancer cells in vitro. These anti-cancer effects appeared to be concentration-dependent.
The anti-cancer properties of walnuts have been largely attributed to their strong antioxidant activity, but also omega-3 fatty acids are known to provide protection against some types of cancer.
Health Benefits for Women with PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder that affects nearly 7 million American women, is typically characterized by insulin resistance, increased production of male hormones (androgens), dyslipidemia, and increased inflammation.
A group of researchers from UC Davis set out to investigate the effects of walnuts and almonds on metabolic and hormone-related parameters in PCOS. Both nuts were shown to exert beneficial effects on plasma lipid and androgen levels in PCOS patients. Both the women who ate walnuts and the women who received almonds experienced a drop in their LDL cholesterol and apoprotein B levels; however, the drop was statistically significant only in the walnut group.
Furthermore, walnuts were found to increase insulin response during oral glucose tolerance tests by 26%, to cause a significant drop in Hgb A1 (indicative of improved insulin sensitivity), and to increase sex hormone-binding globulin (a hormone that helps reduce the effect of testosterone). Almonds, on the hand, were found to reduce free androgen index. This intriguing study was published in the March 2011 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A Treasure Trove of Minerals
Still not convinced of the nutritional benefits of eating walnuts? Guess what, these super-nuts also packed with a wide range of minerals. They are supercharged with copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and manganese, plus they contain a good amount of calcium, too. Minerals act both individually and synergistically to perform hundreds of roles in the body, keeping your blood vessels, bones, nerves, skin, hair, and immune system strong and healthy.
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