Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
3 Reasons Why Walnuts May Be the Healthiest Snack
What you snack on may be the most important health decision you make each day. In this article, I share the latest scientific findings on walnuts. Based on the results of this new study, I also discuss three reasons why walnuts may be the healthiest snack.
The Snacking Obesity Link
We are all wired a bit differently. Some of us do best with three meals a day while others may need many small meals or snacks to get them through the day.
What we don’t need are the typical snacks. Snacking now accounts for a third of all calories people eat each day.
The problem is that most snacks are not healthy food choices. Perhaps this explains why people who snack double their risk of obesity. For those who like to snack in the evenings, the risk is even higher. Indeed, studies show that evening snackers triple their risk of obesity.
If your metabolism does best with snacking then consider walnuts. Even if you aren’t a snacker, based on the data I’m going to present, you’ll want to consider walnuts if you are at all concerned about your weight.
The New Walnut Study
I really liked this new walnut study. All too often with nutritional studies, researchers just ask people to remember what they ate over the last 10 to 20 years. Then, based on what people report eating, researchers try to correlate this to health and longevity.
The problem with these sorts of studies is that most people don’t remember what they ate. For example, I can barely remember what I ate yesterday let alone 20 years ago.
While these types of studies may provide clues, the problem is that they are often inaccurate and lead to conflicting results. Thus, it is no wonder why there is so much confusion about what foods are healthy!
This study was different. In this study, Harvard researchers somehow convinced 10 people to be locked up in a hospital for five days on two different occasions. With the study participants locked up, researchers had 100% control of everything they ate. No outside food could be smuggled in.
On one of their 5-day stays, each study participant drank a daily walnut smoothie. On their other 5-day stay, they drank the same smoothie minus the walnuts. To keep the study results clear, the researchers kept the calories, taste, and nutritional composition of the smoothies otherwise the same.
3 Reasons Why Walnuts May Be the Healthiest Snack
1. Walnuts Fill You Up
While these study participants were locked up in the hospital, researchers asked them to rate their hunger. Interestingly, during the 5-days they unknowingly drank the walnut smoothie, people reported feeling very full.
To confirm that these study participants weren’t just imagining things, researchers also scanned their brains with a functional MRI. Sure enough, they found that those people who had walnuts slipped into their daily smoothie had the satiety center of their brain all lit up.
The key take away here is that if you struggle with hunger pangs between meals, as I often do between surgeries, try munching on a few walnuts. Or, if you want to avoid snacking all together, try eating a few walnuts with your meal. As each smoothie in this study only contained 48 grams of walnuts (about 20 walnut halves), it doesn’t take much to fill you up.
2. Walnuts Make You Choose Healthier Foods
The second interesting finding of this study is that researchers wanted to tempt these poor study participants after they drank their daily smoothies. On the days when walnuts were slipped into their smoothies, pictures of hamburgers and deserts didn’t seem to tempt them.
Even more interesting was that on the days they unknowingly ate walnuts, pictures of vegetables seemed to excite them. The message here is that walnuts can somehow reprogram your brain to shun junk foods and embrace healthy foods.
3. Helps with Cognitive Control and Food Cravings
The last key finding of this study is that walnuts light up an an area in your brain known as the insula. The insula is thought to help with cognitive control and food cravings. Thus, walnuts in this study appeared to give you more control over your thoughts and food cravings.
The Nutritional Benefits of Walnuts
What this study didn’t cover was the incredible nutritional benefits of walnuts. Walnuts are packed with the anti-inflammatory brain food known as the omega 3s. Walnuts are also high in protein and fiber which help to keep you full.
Fortunately, walnuts help to prevent almost every major chronic medical problem. To learn more about the many nutritional benefits of walnuts, please read this article I wrote on this topic.
How Should You Eat Walnuts?
As long as you don’t bathe your walnuts in sugar or oils, just about any way you want to eat them is healthy. Raw or dry roasted, it really doesn’t matter. While this study put walnuts in smoothies, there are certainly many other ways to eat walnuts.
Personally, my favorite way to eat walnuts is to put them on salads. I love the texture, taste, and nutritional profile they bring to my salads. Likewise, I also enjoy munching on them raw as a snack.
The biggest take away from this recent study is that most of us need more walnuts in our diet. Unless you have a walnut allergy, try eating more.
Make walnuts your go to food for smoothies and salads. Put them in your purse or bag for an on-the-go snack. Based on the science behind walnuts, they just might be the healthiest snack.
Do you enjoy walnuts? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I’ll do my best to answer every question as quickly as I can.
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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.