Some sources say that walnuts were the first tree nut known to man and while we don’t know that for certain, we know walnuts have been cultivated and eaten by people for millennia. They probably originated in Asia but have been cultivated almost all over the world’s temperate zones as their popularity has spread.
The good old walnut offers a range of nutrients in smaller amounts – several B group vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. However, what makes walnuts stand out among other nuts is their high polyunsaturated fat content. They are a rich source of the essential omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and, as a bonus, they contain them in the right ratio for the human body to use well. Just one ounce (a small handful) covers your daily omega-3 needs. These fats are vital for your brain, cell membranes, hormone formation and they are also anti-inflammatory so having a reliable daily intake is important for good health.
An ounce of walnuts also provides over four grams of protein, which is a nice bonus!
And that’s not all – walnuts are rich in antioxidants which are found mainly in their papery skin. In fact, walnuts have the highest antioxidant activity among common tree nuts! Their consumption has been linked to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Walnut antioxidants are also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial so can help you fight infection.
And the list goes on! Walnuts contain compounds called phytosterols which compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut. That way, they help to lower your cholesterol levels. Even though vegans don’t consume cholesterol, because it’s found only in animal products, we make our own cholesterol and it is secreted into the gut as a part of bile, and phytosterols reduce its absorption there, too.
There are no major issues with walnut production but it’s best to choose organic walnuts to protect nature and your health. Also, as common sense would dictate, you should always buy European walnuts if you live in Europe and skip those imported from the US or other distant countries to avoid unnecessary transport emissions.
How to use walnuts?
Even though walnuts are delicious as they are, they are also excellent in many sweet and savoury dishes. For inspiration, see walnut recipes at our Vegan Recipe Club.