Just how healthy are those wrinkly-looking nuts—and should you be eating them more often?

Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
December 12, 2019
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Considered the oldest tree food known to man, walnuts were once reserved only for royalty. Fortunately, that's no longer the case: we can all reap the delicious, healthy benefits of the brain-shaped nut. Compared to other nuts, walnuts have the most polyphenols, or compounds that are good for you and act like antioxidants, mopping up harmful free radicals.

What are the other health benefits of walnuts? Read on!

Nutrition Facts: What's in a serving of walnuts?

In a 1-ounce serving, which is about 1/4 cup, or 12 to 14 walnut halves, or a handful, there are:

  • Calories: 200
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Fat: 20 g
  • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Carbohydrate: 4 g
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg

Plus, walnuts are the only nut to deliver a significant amount of (plant-based) omega-3 fats. You'll get 2.5 grams of ALA in a handful of walnuts. Oh, and also a good dose of magnesium and a little bit of iron, potassium and calcium.

The Health Benefits of Walnuts

Walnuts are well-known for their heart-healthy benefits. In fact, they're Heart-Check certified, meaning the American Heart Association says walnuts meet the criteria to be a heart-healthy food. There's also solid research to show that eating walnuts regularly can have a really positive impact on your cholesterol. But walnuts offer other benefits too! Read on to learn what else walnuts offer. We think you'll find some of the benefits surprising.

Help prevent weight gain

Because a serving of nuts leans toward being a little higher in calories, they don't inherently seem like diet food. But a newer study, published online in September 2019 in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, found that when people make nuts a regular part of their diet, it's likely that they'll gain less weight in the long term (and they have a lower risk of becoming obese). If that sounds confusing, think of this way: regular nut eaters gained only ½ pound of weight each year while more occasional nut eaters gained a pound a year. Even better, walnut eaters specifically gained the least amount of weight. Do realize, though, that these people weren't eating bowls full of nuts: bumping up their nut-eating habit by as little as a half serving seemed to make a difference.

Improve gut health

We're learning more and more about the importance of a so-called healthy microbiome—aka the trillions of bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract—and what to eat to hopefully achieve a happy gut (here are the best fiber-rich foods for your gut). For one, walnuts! When researchers fed people walnuts (about 1/3 cup each day for three weeks), they discovered that walnuts had a positive effect on participants' gut bacteria (versus when those same participants didn't eat walnuts for three weeks). One specific example: the researchers found walnuts increased microbes that produce a compound—called butyrate—that's particularly healthy for your colon.

Protect brain health

It's been called the brain-shaped nut for quite some time—and now there's research to show it is, literally, good for your noggin. Remember how walnuts can improve your cardiovascular health? Well, a healthy heart can help lower your risk for neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline. And there's also specific research on eating walnuts and brain health. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging found that people who ate walnuts daily had improved concentration, short-term memory recall, and overall cognitive function—compared to those who didn't eat walnuts (or any other nuts, for that matter). Try these top 10 foods to help keep your brain young and healthy.

Boost reproductive health

Research shows that adding two and a half servings of walnuts to your daily diet (2.5 ounces) may help improve sperm quality, like vitality, movement and form, in healthy men. Then there's another study—this one published in 2019—of pregnant women that found those who ate tree nuts every day (and also followed a Mediterranean diet) lowered their risk of developing gestational diabetes, and gained 2.6 fewer pounds during their pregnancy.

Bottom Line

Walnuts are one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. Not only do they deliver plenty of health benefits, they're tasty (and versatile) too! They add a hearty, crunchy topping to salads, oatmeal, yogurt and more. Try them in these healthy walnut recipes. Not to mention, they're delicious in baked goods. However you enjoy them, you'll be gobbling up lots of goodness.