This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
The impact of eating walnuts has been evident for the past decade as repeated scientific studies confirm that the omega-3 fats in this tasty nut promote cardiovascular health as they improve cholesterol biomarkers. But one research team took it up a notch, offering more insight into why this little nut is so powerful.
A research team from Penn State, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania now provide evidence to support past studies and expand our current understanding about the importance of this tree nut to improve vascular function. Publishing in the Journal of Nutrition, scientists have found that consumption of whole walnuts, or their extracted oil, can reduce cardiovascular risk through a mechanism other than simply lowering cholesterol. Walnuts are part of a host of natural foods known to lower the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving endothelial function and improving blood lipids.
One of the study authors, Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton commented, “We already know that eating walnuts in a heart-healthy diet can lower blood cholesterol levels… but, until now, we did not know what component of the walnut was providing this benefit. Now we understand additional ways in which whole walnuts and their oil components can improve heart health.” The team found that the essential oils in walnuts and walnut oils help to preserve blood vessel wall elasticity and can provide health-promoting effects within thirty minutes after consumption.
Penn State researchers studied fifteen participants diagnosed with elevated blood cholesterol levels and provided them with one of four drug-free treatments: eating 85 grams of plain, whole walnuts, six grams of walnut skins, 34 grams of walnut meat with the fat removed, or 51 grams of essential walnut oil. Biochemical and psychological responses were recorded before nut consumption and again at one, two, four and six hour intervals to determine how walnuts affect critical cardiovascular biomarkers.
Eat a Handful of Walnuts Every Day to Lower Heart Disease Risk
The team determined that each group exhibited a ‘positive’ response to consuming each of the different parts of the nut and its oils. Eating walnuts most significantly influenced the production of HDL cholesterol, a biomarker closely associated with removal of excess oxidized levels of cholesterol from the blood.
The study authors concluded, “The science around HDL functionality is very new, so to see improvements in this outcome with the consumption of whole walnuts is promising and worth investigating further… walnut oil was particularly good at preserving the function of endothelial cells, which play an important role in cardiovascular health.” Eating a handful of walnuts eaten every day will provide a measurable degree of cardiovascular disease risk reduction.
Walnuts provide healthy doses of essential minerals, fiber and vitamins to help promote heart health and also supply the long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA, though the body must convert them to a more bioavailable form through a multi-step process.
So next time you’re in the mood for a healthy snack, reach for a handful of these neuro-protecting, nutrient-packed nuts.