Why walnuts?Walnuts are plant nuts also called as Juglans regia from the family Juglandaceae. They contain good fatty acids, are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are very useful in heart health. Walnuts are good for brain health and have anti-cancerous properties. Walnuts can be consumed raw or used in desserts or included as in a healthy snack like homemade protein powder. It can be used in porridge, milkshakes and soups.Nutritional compositionWalnuts are high in healthy fatty acids like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (like oleic acid that is omega 6 fatty acids) and are low in saturated fats. Walnut is a calorie dense high fat food - it contains about 60 per cent fat. Still studies show that walnuts do not increase the risk of obesity.Walnuts contain a major amount of alpha linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acids) which is especially beneficial for heart health. When we compare walnuts with almonds and peanuts, walnuts contain a higher amount of alpha linoleic and alpha linolenic acids which are two essential fatty acids required by the human body. These are received from dietary intake as they are not synthesised in the body.Walnuts are low in carbohydrates and contain vitamin E, phosphorus, vitamin B6, folic acid, manganese, copper. Walnuts contain about 60 per cent fats and about 15 per cent proteins.100 g walnuts provide:•\tEnergy - 616 kcal•\tProtein - 14.3 g•\tFat - 61 g•\tCarbohydrates - 13 g•\tFibre - 6.3 gThe standard dose of omega 3 fatty acids recommended by many experts is one gram per day that may be obtained from about 30 g of walnuts.Health benefits of walnutsHeart healthWalnuts are low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fattyacids like alpha linolenic acid. Studies show that walnuts lower low density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) and improve high density lipoproteins (good cholesterol). They also help to improve blood vessel functioning and reduce inflammation.Cancer preventionWalnuts are rich in antioxidants like ellagic acid, catechin, melatonin, polyphenols and other phytic acid like phytosterols, gamma tocopherols, omega 3 fatty acids etc.Because they contain these antioxidants walnuts may suppress cancer cell growth. This is supported by animal studies.However more research is required to confirm these effects of walnuts in cancer prevention in humans.To prevent onset of Type 2 DiabetesRegular consumption of walnuts may help to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Study conducted by Jiang et al. (2002) on 83,818 female participants (aged 34-59) concluded that regular consumption of walnuts five times in a week had a significant effect in preventing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.Weight managementAs walnuts are rich in good fatty acids like omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and protein they give satiety, which is an important factor in weight management. SUN cohort study conducted in Spain on 8,865 graduatestudents who either regularly consumed walnuts or did not eat them. The study found that the students who consumed walnuts more than twice a week had a31 per cent lower risk of gaining more than 5 kg weight during follow up. While students who frequently consumed walnuts had 0.42 kg less weight gain than those students who rarely consumed walnuts.Brain-friendlyWalnuts are brain friendly food because they are high in omega 3 fatty acids.Tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is rich in walnuts increases 5 hydroxy tryptamine function which may be involved in memory enhancing. Haider et al. (2011) suggested that long term use of walnuts may be beneficial for brain health. They also function as a good mood food.Walnuts contain compounds like vitamin B6, tryptophan, protein and folic acid which help improve mood positivity.Note: It is important to consult your doctor and dieticians before including walnuts in your daily diet.Rutuja Mahajan is a Clinical Nutritionist and a Diabetes Educator.