Sunday, May 01, 2005

Going Nuts

Years ago, it seemed that almost every home I visited had a dish of whole walnuts at hand. It was never clear if anyone actually shelled and ate the walnuts, but if they didn't, they should have. Research is piling up that walnuts are a powerhouse for your health. The latest study, conducted in Australia and published in the journal Diabetes Care, involved 58 people with type 2 diabetes who were assigned to one of three groups. All followed a low-fat diet that included fish, fruits and vegetables, but one group also ate 30g of walnuts (approximately six whole nuts) each day. At the end of six months, while all groups showed some improvement in healthy HDL cholesterol, the researchers termed improvement for members of the walnut-eating group as "significant." In addition, the walnut-eating group had a 10% drop in artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. I tend to think of walnuts as something added to salads and cookies, not as part of a daily diet, but botanical expert Eric Yarnell, ND, RH (AHG), is so enthusiastic about walnuts in the diet that he advises eating 10 to 20 whole walnuts each day! The reasons are many, but they come down primarily to walnuts' high content of omega-3 fatty acids and copper, both nutrients that are extremely deficient in the American diet. Not only that, the omega-3 fatty acids in highest quantity in walnuts -- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) versus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) -- also can be very satisfying. As a result, many walnut-eaters find they have fewer cravings for simple carbohydrates. Walnuts are an excellent source of fiber, which Dr. Yarnell describes as ridiculously insufficient in the typical diet, as well as magnesium, zinc and some vitamin B-6. The body needs a balance of zinc and copper to help maintain proper cholesterol levels. Most people tend to consume too much zinc (he advocates not more than 20 mg a day) and not enough copper. Walnuts deliver both in balance. Dr. Yarnell says that baking with walnuts does not hurt their nutrient content, but be sure to avoid cooking with walnut oil. Heat breaks down the oil so fast that it quickly becomes toxic. (The omega-6 content of some vegetable oils -- such as canola, sunflower, sesame and safflower -- makes them highly resistant to heat, he says, and okay to use.) Store all nuts -- including walnuts -- in the freezer, preferably in an airtight container, and take out just what you plan to eat each week. This will keep the oils fresh and preserve the antioxidant properties.

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