There is growing awareness that chronic inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease (CVD). We have reported that anti-inflammatory foods can reduce the risk of complications from CVD (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Nov. 10, 2020). The authors recommend green leafy vegetables, whole grains and other foods rich in antioxidants. They should also have noted that walnuts are good for the heart!
The Flip-Flop on Walnuts:
There was a time when nuts were considered unhealthy for the heart. That’s because they contain quite a lot of fat. Research over the last few decades, however, suggests that the kind of fat in nuts is actually good for the heart, and walnuts top the list.
We were excited to read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 4, 1993. It was titled, “Effects of walnuts on serum lipid levels and blood pressure in normal men.”
The authors introduced their research this way:
“In a recent six-year follow-up study, we found that frequent consumption of nuts was associated with a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease. To explore possible explanations for this finding, we studied the effects of nut consumption on serum lipids and blood pressure.”
The authors discovered that “incorporating moderate quantities of walnuts” into the diet could lower cholesterol levels. The authors called for further study into the “long-term effects of walnut consumption.”
Other Research Proves that Walnuts are Good for the Heart:
Over the last three decades there have been thousands of articles about walnuts in the medical literature. This week, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Nov. 10, 2020) reports that people who eat walnuts have reduced inflammatory markers in the bloodstream.
They introduce their research this way:
“As summarized in a recent meta-analysis of 19 prospective studies, when comparing extreme quantiles of total nut consumption (2.5 to 28 g/day), total CVD and CVD mortality were 15% and 23% lower, respectively. Walnut consumption independent from other nuts revealed similar inverse associations with CVD in 3 studies.
“Nut consumption may be associated with lower CVD risk because nuts have a consistent cholesterol-lowering effect. A meta-analysis of 24 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) concluded that, compared with control diets, walnut-enriched diets resulted in significant weighted mean differences in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol…Given the prevailing theory that inflammation is a major driver of atherosclerosis, 1 potential mechanism linking nut consumption to reduced CVD might be diminished inflammation.”
Why Walnuts are Good:
The study, called WAHA, stands for Walnuts and Healthy Aging. There were 634 volunteers who completed the two-year randomized controlled trial. The experiment compared a standard diet with no walnuts to a diet containing 1-2 ounces of walnuts a day.
At the end of the study, several inflammatory markers were lower among the walnut eaters. This reinforces epidemiological data suggesting that people who eat nuts, especially walnuts are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease or die from heart attacks.
The authors conclude:
“In conclusion, incorporating daily doses of walnuts at ≈15% of energy into the diet of free-living elders for 2 years reduced the concentrations of several inflammatory biomarkers…The anti-inflammatory effect of long-term consumption of walnuts demonstrated in this study provides novel mechanistic insight for the benefit of walnut consumption on CVD risk beyond that of lipid lowering.”
Walnuts Help Fight Stress:
Diet is critical when people are under stress, but research now suggests walnuts are good for mental health (Nutrients, Nov. 11, 2022). Australian scientists studied college students for a semester including exam periods. Academic stress had a negative impact on mental health. However, students consuming 2 ounces of walnuts daily were less likely to experience symptoms of stress. In addition, they also had more diverse collections of gut microbes.
Walnuts Are Good for Dessert:
If people relied on a few walnuts for a snack rather than candy or cookies, they would be getting protein, fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fats rather than empty calories. We believe walnuts are good for the heart, but the FDA won’t let the walnut growers say that. A few years ago we wrote this article:
Why Is the FDA So Squirrelly About Nuts?
The FDA spanked walnut growers for making health claims about their nuts. KIND bars also received a nasty FDA note. Why has the FDA been negative on nuts?
Walnuts Are Good, Period!
We are especially fond of recipes that contain walnuts. Several years ago we invited some of our favorite health experts to provide recipes for a book we were writing.
At the time, Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, was a frequent guest on our People’s Pharmacy public radio show. Dr. Willett was Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The recipe that Dr. Willett and his wife, Gail Pettiford Willett, submitted was a “Lentil Nut Loaf with Red Pepper Sauce.” It is one of our favorites. Here are the ingredients:
1 cup lentils, washed
2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional oil for greasing the baking pan
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon mixed herbs of your choice
The Red Pepper Sauce makes this recipe sing:
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1 jar of roasted red pepper
3 tomatoes chopped
Red pepper flakes (optional)
For lentil loaf: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking pan.
Combine lentils and water in a large pot, and cook lentils until they’re soft, about half an hour. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or skillet, and sauté the onions and mushrooms until they’re soft. Mix all other ingredients in with the mushrooms and onions. Sauté for three to four minutes. Place the mixture in the greased baking pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
For red pepper sauce: heat oil in sauté pan or skillet, and sauté the garlic on medium heat for three to four minutes. Add the red pepper and tomatoes. Cook until the mixture thickens— about 15 minutes. Ladle over the lentil loaf. Can be served hot or at room temperature. Makes four servings.
(Lentil loaf recipe adapted from Recipes for Natural Health: www.recipes.org/health/main.htm; red pepper sauce recipe adapted from yumyum.com.)
More Recipes, With and Without Walnuts:
You can find dozens of fabulous healthy meal plans in Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy. Recipes include: Joe’s Brain Boosting Smoothie, Power Pudding and Pumpkin-Bran Muffins (for constipation), Gypsy Soup, Horseradish Crusted Salmon with Cranberry Catsup, Butternut Squash & Apple Soup, Fennel Salad and many more. Oh, let’s not forget the Blueberry Cheesecake that is good for your brain!
You can order online from our bookstore at this link.