While nuts may be high in fat, there’s now little doubt that they also offer health benefits. With their nutrient density, their antioxidants, their protein content, and many more features, it’s easy to see why you might turn to nuts regularly. Even so, we still need to ask, are walnuts good for you?
After all, there are concerning features too, including how many calories you’re getting in a small serving and the high omega 6 content. It’s easy to overdo it with walnuts, especially if your diet isn’t well balanced.
In this post, we’re taking a close look at the benefits and limits of walnuts, along with other things to consider, like whether you should soak walnuts and how they compare to other nuts.
Are Walnuts Good For You?
- The Benefits Of Walnuts
- The Problems With Walnuts
- Ways To Use Walnuts
- Are Walnuts Better Than Other Nuts?
- Should You Soak Walnuts?
- Final Thoughts
The Benefits Of Walnuts
They Contain Plenty Of Nutrients
All nuts offer a decent amount of nutrients in a small serving size. This makes them fantastic ways to improve your health.
Some of the main nutrients in walnuts include copper, manganese, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin B6, and phosphorus. Others are present in smaller quantities.
All of these vitamins and minerals are important. We need them for our bodies to function normally. If we’re deficient in any, then our bodies won’t work as they should.
Thankfully, most of us will be getting all (or most) of the nutrients that we need. Still, if you’re not, walnuts are an easy way to improve your nutrient intake, as they’re a simple snack with plenty of nutrients.
You can also add walnuts to meals or salads to increase the nutrient content without any extra work.
Walnuts Offer Antioxidants Too
Walnuts are a surprisingly good source of antioxidants. Most of these are in the skin, which is one reason for eating the skin of almonds, rather than removing it.
The antioxidant content is seriously impressive. One study ranked them near the top for antioxidants, out of a list that contained more than 1110 different foods. How amazing is that?
There’s also one interesting antioxidant – vitamin E. While vitamin E itself isn’t unusual, the form found in walnuts is different than most. Walnuts appear to have much more of the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E. This type of vitamin E could be particularly powerful for heart health.
They’re A Good Source Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Most nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, contain some polyunsaturated fat, and are low in saturated fat. This balance is why nuts are so relevant for your heart health.
Walnuts, however, are a little different. In a 100 gram serving, you get just 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fats (versus 9 grams in almonds and 13 grams in hazelnuts).
They’re still low in saturated fat, but they contain more polyunsaturated fats than other types of nuts. This makes walnuts a powerful plant-based source of omega 3 fatty acids.
The omega 3 is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This isn’t as powerful as the omega 3 fatty acids that you get from fish, but ALA is still important for your health. Plus, if you’re a vegetarian, plant-based sources of omega 3 are essential.
Can Decrease Inflammation
Like other nuts, walnuts are a source of polyphenols. These are antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress throughout your body. By doing so, walnuts could help to lower your risk of some diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
Some other compounds in walnuts may be relevant for decreasing inflammation too, including the omega 3 fatty acids and magnesium.
Plus, walnuts are a natural food that is low in carbs. Those features could be relevant for inflammation as well.
May Improve Gut Health
While walnuts aren’t a source of probiotics, they have been linked to improved gut health. One study found that participants following a walnut-enriched diet had more microbiome diversity than those that did not.
Interestingly, this outcome wasn’t strongly related to how people’s diets changed when they consumed the walnuts. The effect could be due to prebiotics in walnuts, which act as food for our gut bacteria.
There could be other reasons too. Foods do contain a large number of different compounds, which affect health in a variety of ways and interact with one another. It’s pretty much impossible to fully understand all the ways that a single type of food affects our health.
Could Promote Weight Loss
Eating nuts for weight loss can sound like a strange idea, as they’re calorie dense. Even so, nuts can be helpful, as their protein content helps to make them filling.
This is why even just having a small serving of walnuts can help you to feel satisfied for a while. Many other snacks, like popcorn, potato chips, and candy don’t have that effect at all. Nuts are also much healthier than other common snacks and are minimally processed.
Some research even suggests that nuts reduce appetite, so you’re likely to eat less in subsequent meals and snacks.
That’s not all. The estimates of calories in nuts, including walnuts, may not be accurate. Some trials suggest that the digestible calories in walnuts may be lower than we expect. This may be another reason why nuts don’t seem to cause weight gain, even though their calorie content is high.
Help With Your Heart
Nuts are often linked to heart health and walnuts are no exception. The monounsaturated fats help with this effect, often decreasing levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol (which is the healthy kind).
The omega 3 fatty acids we mentioned earlier are relevant to heart health too. These fats may make walnuts particularly relevant, as walnuts are a better source of omega 3s than any other common tree nut.
The heart health benefits might be even stronger if you’re making wise replacements. So, if you’re eating walnuts instead of highly processed food or foods rich in saturated fat, you’re likely to see many more benefits. Just adding walnuts to your diet without making any other changes isn’t nearly as powerful.
The Problems With Walnuts
The Calorie Density
Nuts give you a lot of nutrients and antioxidants in a small package, but they’re rich in calories and fat too. This shows up really clearly when you look at the serving size.
Many recommendations suggest focusing on around an ounce of walnuts per day or perhaps less. This serving gives you roughly 14 walnut halves (or 7 full walnuts).
Eating 14 walnut halves is enough to keep you satisfied, especially if you do so slowly. Still, we’re not talking about a lot of nuts. You might be able to easily eat more without even thinking about it.
This is also why recipes that rely on nuts, including nut-based cheesecakes and many bliss balls are high in calories too.
The calorie content isn’t a huge issue if you account for it. After all, you’re getting a decent amount of nutrients and protein for those calories. But, it’s easy to simply see walnuts as a health food and ignore the calorie content.
Bliss balls are a classic example of this. They often use nuts and dates as ingredients, making them delicious treats that are packed with energy. Because they’re seen as healthy and natural, some people forget that the balls are often high in sugar, fat, and calories too.
While natural foods do tend to be healthier than heavily processed ones, you still need to think about your calorie intake.
The Omega 6 Content
The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in nuts are often seen as a good thing. These fats are part of the reason that nuts, including walnuts, are so good for heart health.
However, the topic is a little more complex than that.
One problem comes from the polyunsaturated fats – omega 3 and omega 6. Both fats are important for health, especially as they’re often found in healthy and nutrient dense foods.
The biggest effect though seems to come from the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6. Consuming too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 might increase inflammation, which then plays a role in many different diseases.
This is one reason why eating fatty fish is so important for health.
Nuts are actually a unappealing choice for polyunsaturated fats, as they all have a poor ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.
Walnuts seem like one of the best choices at first glance, as they contain more omega 3 fatty acids than other types of nuts and have a better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio. But, appearances can be deceiving. Walnuts also contain more omega 6 fatty acids than other nuts, at around 41 grams in a 1-ounce serving.
The Phytic Acid Content
Walnuts do contain phytic acid. This is sometimes seen as an antinutrient, as it decreases your absorption of some nutrients, including zinc and iron.
The phytic acid content is one reason why you might soak your walnuts before using them. Phytic acid can be concerning, as eating many phytic acid rich foods could easily lead to a nutrient deficiency.
Even so, we need to consider things in context. While phytic acid does decrease your nutrient absorption, you’re still getting plenty of nutrients. If you’re having walnuts on their own rather than as part of a meal, then the phytic acid might not cause many problems at all.
If you’re already getting plenty of nutrients in your diet, losing a few due to the phytic acid isn’t a big deal. The biggest issue is if you’re getting limited iron and zinc, especially if you’re relying on plant-based sources of these nutrients.
Phytic acid isn’t all bad anyway. It’s actually a potent antioxidant and could even decrease cancer risk.
Ways To Use Walnuts
The easiest way to use walnuts is to eat them as a snack, perhaps on their own or as part of a trail mix. Walnuts aren’t as popular as other types of nuts for snacking, but why not try them for yourself? You might find that you enjoy snacking on walnuts more than you expect to.
Walnuts are also an easy addition to salads. They are easy to break apart and provide an interesting texture.
Walnuts often feature in baking too, like walnut bread and muffins. However, you’ll need to be careful here, as many recipes end up being unexpectedly calorie dense.
Are Walnuts Better Than Other Nuts?
Each type of nut has its own features. The omega 3 content is partly what makes walnuts stand out, although walnuts aren’t ideal, as their omega 6 content is high too.
For protein, walnuts fall in the middle of the range. They have more protein per serving than macadamia nuts and pecan, but less than almonds and pistachio nuts. Walnuts aren’t great for fiber either, offering just 2 grams of fiber per serving.
It’s the fat content that makes things interesting.
Walnuts offer roughly 18 grams of fat per ounce. Of this, 1.5 grams are saturated fat, 13 grams are polyunsaturated fats (including omega 3 and omega 6), and only 2.5 grams are monounsaturated fats. Most other nuts contain between 7 and 13 grams of monounsaturated fat per ounce.
The low levels of monounsaturated fat could make walnuts less powerful for your health. But, it’s hard to be certain, as you have the omega 3s in there too.
Perhaps it’s best to not compare nuts in this way. Instead of trying to work out which type of nut offers the most benefits, why not use a variety of them? They all have some standout features.
Should You Soak Walnuts?
Some people suggest that you should soak walnuts before eating them, ideally overnight. Soaking the nuts decrease their levels of phytic acid, which is an antinutrient. Phytic acid could, potentially, decrease your nutrient absorption.
Even so, most people don’t bother to soak their walnuts – and the studies that look at walnut benefits don’t focus on soaking walnuts first.
Besides that, soaking is likely to give you soggy walnuts that don’t taste nearly as good. Even if you fully dry the walnuts before eating, the flavor will never be quite the same.
You could also go one step further and remove the skin from the walnut. Getting the skin off takes a little effort and may not be that helpful anyway, given that most of the powerful plant-based compounds are found in walnut skins.
In the end, you can soak walnuts. You can even peel the skin off before eating them. Soaking them could provide some slight benefits but honestly, the whole idea is much more effort than it’s worth.
Walnuts aren’t just a delicious high protein snack. They also offer many nutrients, are a source of antioxidants, and can promote your gut health.
They’re also a food to be careful with. Their high calorie content makes it easy to eat more walnuts than you intend to. And, if you’re simply adding walnuts to your current diet, you might be unwisely increasing your calorie intake. Because of this, you’ll get the most benefits by using walnuts carefully in your diet.
This includes keeping an eye on your portion sizes and making sensible substitutions. For example, if you snack on walnuts instead of something highly processed, you’re likely to see health benefits. In contrast, simply adding walnuts into your current diet isn’t nearly as powerful.