Cracking Your Way to Good Health

November 04, 2010


It appears to be a record-breaking crop year for walnuts this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the harvest to be about 1 billion pounds for the first time. Recent research shows that walnuts can help prevent cardiac disease and other ailments. They’re a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, believed to be good for the heart.

So go ahead, crack one open - or simply grab a handful - and get healthy!

Here are some things you’ll want to know before heading to the supermarket to pick up some of this year’s bounty:

What are walnuts? An edible seed of the Juglans tree varietals: English (Persian) walnut, Juglans regia; Black, Juglans nigra; White (butternut), Juglans cinerea.

How to buy: Look for unblemished, uncracked, clean-looking rippled and large, creamy colored. To buy shelled walnuts, choose whole for eating and decoration, and broken nuts for garnishing or baking. They shouldn’t be withered or soft. Bags should have little or no “dust” which occurs with handling. The English walnut is the most popular type in U.S., with easy-to-crack shells. Black walnuts are more pungent, white walnuts are mildest and very rare.

How to use: The shelled whole walnut consists of two bumpy kernels partially attached to each other, usually separated and sold as “halves”. Broken walnuts are sold for baking. Eat shelled nuts plain, roasted, or caramelized. Add to pasta, cereal, cooked vegetables, fruit or green salads, or use broken or whole in baked goods. They can also be pureed into a walnut butter.

How to store: To avoid rancidity, refrigerate or freeze shelled walnuts; store nuts in shells in a cool dark area, up to six months, or refrigerate.

Health Benefits: One-quarter cup provides 90.8 percent of the DV for Omega-3s which are beneficial for heart health, cognitive function, and are anti-inflammatory which further benefits asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, and psoriasis. Walnuts also contain Ellagic acid which supports the immune system, and appears to have anticancer properties. Fifteen percent of the fat is monounsaturated. Walnuts are also high in l-arginine, an essential amino acid which helps improve blood vessel function. Walnuts are very high in antioxidants, including 16 antioxidant phenols, vitamin E, gallic acid, and melatonin to aid sleep. Plus, they’re a very good source of manganese, and copper. Just four walnuts a day can be beneficial.

Smarter Shopping: Buying in bulk saves money.