Walnuts are part of the tree nut family, which includes Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, and pistachios. All these tasty tree nuts provide phytochemicals and healthy fats, but walnuts are an especially good source of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of a balanced, nutritious diet and higher intakes have been linked to a number of health benefits including lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and supporting a healthy immune system.
Walnuts also contain the phytochemical ellagic acid, which has long been touted to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. But recent research has suggested that it may also possess cancer-fighting properties. Current research in cell studies is exploring the potential role ellagic acid might play in slowing tumor growth.
It is important to note that these effects on cancer cells have been shown only in cell studies and cannot be applied to humans. Much more research must be done before these results could possibly inform our dietary recommendations for humans.
However, it is exciting to note the emerging research being done on the potential anti-cancer properties of plants, as it reminds us of the importance of including a variety of phytonutrient-rich plant foods in our diet to provide the best protection against cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Keep in mind that all nuts are both nutrient- and energy-dense, so they are a great replacement for less nutrient-dense snacks or for other protein sources that may be high in saturated fat. About a handful of walnut halves will pack a nutritious punch while maintaining a healthy serving size.
Walnuts tend to spoil quickly, so buy small amounts at a time, and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.