As I headed off to college in pursuit of my passion for culinary arts, I began to focus not only on eating when I was hungry, but exactly what I was eating when I was hungry. Creating balanced meals of whole grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, and dairy following the MyPlate method was easy for my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I found myself struggling to find healthy and balanced snack ideas. As I searched for my favorite healthy snack options, I found myself perusing grocery store aisles. One brain-shaped nut stuck out to me and soon became one of my favorite snacks: walnuts!
May 17 is National Walnut Day and a great time to learn more about the history, nutritional low-down and how you can incorporate this nut into your diet every day!
The “English-Persian” Walnut
Spending years studying culinary arts and working in kitchens, I consider myself a foodie. Being a foodie, once I have found a food I love I want to find out as much about it as possible.
There are two main types of walnuts: black and English. English walnuts are the kind we find in our markets and grocery stores. They date back to 7000 B.C. in ancient Persia. They were called “Persian walnuts” and were commonly traded along the Silk Road from Asia to the Middle East. Over time, walnuts were brought overseas by English merchants. This is how walnuts received the name “English Walnuts.” Walnuts continue to be popular around the world, with the United States being the largest producer of the world’s walnuts.
Cracking the Shell
Walnuts can come in their shells or shelled. The meaty inside of these nuts is shaped similar to a brain. Did you know walnuts are about 65 percent fat and your own brain is 60 percent fat? Looks like they have more in common than just their shape!
Walnuts are composed of small amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and a lot of polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs). While saturated fats should be limited to less than 10 percent of total calories, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, MUFAs and PUFAs should make up the majority of your fat consumption because they are believed to have health benefits.
- Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs): Foods high in MUFAs can help improve insulin sensitivity, which is very beneficial for those with diabetes and prediabetes. They also help improve total cholesterol levels and HDL-to-LDL ratio.
- Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs): These fall into two categories, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s decrease triglyceride and total cholesterol levels and even may increase good HDL cholesterol. They also lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, and can aid in relieving depression, joint pain, and inflammation. Omega-6s also lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol.
Walnuts also have fiber, protein and essential vitamins and minerals. Snatch up a handful (about 12 to 14 halves) and chow down on these healthy fat-packed nuts!
Snacks and Beyond
Walnuts make a great snack, but they can also be added to any meal of the day. Here are some ways I love to eat walnuts:
- Add to fruit, greens, or chicken or tuna salad
- Make trail mix with walnuts
- Toast and toss with a little olive oil and favorite spices
- Mix into yogurt for breakfast
- Add to whole grain rice, quinoa or other grains as a side dish
- Crush walnuts and coat your favorite protein with them before baking