April 20th, 2009
Nuts. Yup, I’m going there. I know you’re probably still nervous given recent peanut and pistachio recalls. I don’t blame you, but that’s also why I’m writing about walnuts. While we should continue being diligent about what nuts we eat and where they come from, we shouldn’t feel so scared that we leave them completely out of our family’s diets. They’re just too damn healthy.
As SuperFoods explains, nuts are nature’s nurseries. “A nut or seed is basically a storage device that contains all the highly concentrated proteins, calories, and nutrients that a plant embryo will require to flourish.” So, in these dark, unregulated times, I say a little cheerleading is in order for the healthiest nut of all: walnuts.
So what’s the scoop on walnuts?
Famed pediatrician Dr. Greene calls nuts, including walnuts, anti-junk food. And Dr. Steve Pratt, author of SuperFoods Rx,considers walnuts—you guessed it—a super food. How super? Well, according to research published in a 2006 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, just 8 walnuts can help protect arteries from the damage of a high-fat meal. Want a real world anecdote instead of research mumbo jumbo?
Inhabitants of Perigord, a region of southern France known for its diet high in fried foods, rich meats, and fatty patés, suffer fewer heart attacks than Americans. At first, medical experts attributed this phenomenon to their red wine habit. But residents didn’t drink any more than those in other parts of Europe. Closer examination revealed that their daily green salads were dressed with walnut oil and chopped walnuts, which was helping lower their cholesterol levels. That’s how super.
Why are walnuts good for you?
With growing awareness of omega-3’s, most folks know that walnuts are an excellent source of the fatty acids. What you might not know (I certainly didn’t!) is that walnuts contain a specific omega-3, ALA, that is very similar to the omega-3’s found in heart-smart fish like salmon. Just a quarter cup of walnuts provides about 90% of the daily value for these essential fats, giving walnuts potential health benefits including:
But the health benefits don’t stop there. Walnuts have one of the highest natural sources of antioxidants, including an antioxidant compound that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties. And—yes, there’s more—walnuts are a very good source of manganese and good source of protein and fiber.
Buying and storing walnuts
Due to their high fat content, walnuts are extremely perishable. When buying shelled walnuts out of the bulk bin, make sure that there is good turnover and that the bin is well sealed. Walnuts purchased in their shell should feel heavy and their shells should not be cracked or stained (which could indicate mold). No matter how they come, avoid walnuts that look rubbery or shriveled.
Shelled walnuts stored in an airtight container in the fridge should last for up to six months. You can also store them in the freezer where they will last for up to a year. Unshelled walnuts should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place like the fridge, where they will stay fresh for up to six months.
Cooking with walnuts
Walnuts and walnut oil (also great for you, though without the fiber content) are versatile staples of Eastern European and Middle Eastern cooking. Because their nutritional benefit is maximized when used raw (heat can diminish their antioxidant content) and walnut oil can get bitter when cooked for too long at a high heat, both make great additions to salads, dressings, and dips. Here are some ideas to get your started:
Or, you can make this quick and tasty dip that’s even more addictive than hummus.
Red Pepper Walnut Dip
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*
1 large clove organic garlic
2/3 cup organic walnuts
1 12-oz jar organic, roasted sweet peppers
1/2 tsp smoked paprika OR 1 tsp regular, organic paprika
1 cup organic breadcrumbs
2 tbsp freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
2 tbsp organic sherry vinegar (or organic balsamic or double your lemon juice)
4 tbsp organic olive oil
salt and pepper, optional
1. Add garlic and walnuts to a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs form.
2. Add peppers, paprika, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, and vinegar. Begin pureeing and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to older kid and adult portions, if you like. We like the hummus-like consistency that this recipe yields, but you can adjust the with a little bit of water.
*There is a lot of disagreement about when it’s safest to introduce tree nuts. Some pediatricians (and we) believe that it is safe to introduce nuts to children without other food allergies or family history of food allergies at 12 months. Others encourage parents to wait until 24 or 36 months. Read more here and speak to your pediatrician about what’s best for your child.
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