Heart Health in a Nutshell—What Walnuts Can Do for You

By Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN

Walnuts are an ancient plant food that has sustained humans since the dawn of civilization. They are key to heart health because they are a top source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is the omega-3 fatty acid derived from plants that our bodies need in addition to the other omega-3 that comes from salmon and other fish.

Studies show that people who eat an ALA-rich diet are less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack.

That is why walnuts (along with flaxseeds) are part of a plan I developed to reverse heart disease, and/or to build good heart health to hopefully avoid heart troubles. My full program is detailed in in Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease (PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com).  The other key food groups are olive oil, leafy greens, figs and other fruits, lentils and other legumes, salmon and other seafood, oatmeal and other whole grains, and red wine. Dark chocolate is a bonus food in this plan. Yeah!

 

 Walnuts stand apart from all other types of nuts for two reasons:

• they provide the highest amount of the “vegetarian” omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, and

• they are packed with the most plaque-fighting antioxidants relative to all other nuts.

While the thin brown skin that surrounds the walnut meat — the pellicle — may taste a bit bitter, this is naturally rich in antioxidant polyphenols, which combat plaque buildup, so try to eat that portion when you eat your walnuts. Walnuts are also naturally rich in vitamin E, the potent healthy antioxidant, concentrated mostly in the nut kernel.

Consuming just a handful of walnuts daily can help:

- Make your dysfunction endothelium (the damaged inner arterial layer that instigates and promotes heart disease progression) more functional by reducing inflammation and promoting more relaxed and dilated blood vessels.

- Lower your cholesterol (both walnuts and flaxseeds will work together to make a dent in your “bad” LDL cholesterol level).

- Make your blood less likely to clot.

- Lower your blood level of inflammation. Eating walnuts is probably the easiest and tastiest way to incorporate ALA into your day because they can be enjoyed multiple ways: as a handy and portable snack or as an embellishment to any meal.

Here are a few of the ideas to eat more walnuts — to help you and your heart:

• Keep a bag of shelled walnuts on your kitchen counter and grab some nuts as a quick and healthy snack.

• Go Greek: enjoy a fat-free Greek yogurt topped with a little honey, some crushed walnuts and savor a nutritious choice that makes a sensational and satisfying sweet dessert.

• Sprinkle walnuts on your green salads. • Try candied walnuts —bake walnuts sprinkled with a little brown sugar for a sweet treat.

•  Toss walnuts and dried fruit together in a small plastic bag and you have a super-antioxidant-rich and convenient snack for when you are out and about or even as a late-afternoon pick-me-up.

•  Use walnuts in cooking to add taste and nutrition to your favorite dishes.

You may be surprised at how some foods truly come alive with the addition of these nuts. So, go a little nuts (walnuts, that is) every day, and get heart healthy.

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Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, is a leading diet, nutrition, and fitness expert. She is the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack and Cholesterol Down. Learn more at www.drjanet.com. A few recipes included in Prevent a Second Heart Attack that feature walnuts include Dr. Janet’s Spinach Salad with Apples, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries; Dr. Janet’s Arugla Salad with Figs and Walnut; and Chef Julie Korhumel’s Basil Pesto and Tomato Whole-Wheat Crostini. Oatmeal, Walnut, and Flaxseed Pancakes; Quinoa with Walnuts and Currents; and Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts (below) are some other recipes included in this book that are sure to please the palate. In her previous book, Cholesterol Down: Ten Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in Four Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs (A Three Rivers Press), Brill shares a double-omega-3-whammy recipe Walnut-Encrusted Salmon that is spectacularly delectable.

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