By Lexington Medical Center’s Susan K Wilkerson, RD, LD
Nuts are a great way to add a healthy dose of good nutrition to your eating plan. Walnuts have a healthy amount of good fat called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is a precursor (parent) to the omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – found in fish. The fatty acid in fish and walnuts are not the same; one converts to the other in the body.
Why is this important? A recent study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition found that a low fat diet including walnuts reduced the total cholesterol and LDL (lousy) cholesterol and increased HDL (healthy) cholesterol. This resulted in a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Another study reported in Diabetes Care suggested eating 2 oz of nuts daily as a replacement for carbohydrates was effective for blood glucose and lipid control in people with Type-2 Diabetes.
The English walnut we eat today originated in India in the regions surrounding the Caspian Sea. It was known as the Persian walnut. In the 4th century ancient Romans introduced the walnut to many European countries. At that time they were expensive and reserved only for royalty. The English walnut was introduced to America via English merchant ships. The English walnut, also are known as the “mission” walnut, was first cultivated in California by Franciscan Fathers in the late 1700’s. They were small and had a hard shell at that time. The trees flourished in the California’s Mediterranean like climate to what we eat today.
Select walnuts not shelled that look heavy for their size and without any cracked, pierced or stained shells. This may be a sign of mold on the nutmeat. Mold is not safe to consume.
The high polyunsaturated fat content makes walnuts extremely perishable. They can be stored up to 6 months in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. If they are shelled, they need to be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer up to a one year.
Walnuts can go anywhere. They can be a great lunchtime buddy or after school snack. Try walnuts sprinkled on salad greens or vegetables, mixed into chicken salad, stuffing, and casseroles and they are excellent in desserts!
References: Today’s Dietitian, August 2011. California Walnut Commission.