Bearing a striking resemblance to tiny brains, walnuts are packed with brain boosting nutrients and are recognised as one of the ultimate brain foods. They contain a number of neuroprotective compounds, with the highest amounts of Omega 3 of any nut – this fatty acid is critical to the health and smooth functioning of this most important organ. Some recent research has found that walnuts can also increase neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells – a crucial aspect of maintaining brain health. They have been shown to improve the signalling amongst neurons within the brain and various properties within walnuts could possibly prevent neurodegeneration, a process which can lead to a whole host of disorders.
Walnuts are literally loaded with brain enhancing nutrients such as the “morale vitamin” B1 and the “mood vitamin” B6. Other neuroprotective nutrients are; gallic acid, vitamin E isomers, melatonin, folate and polyphenols.
Walnuts contain several unique and powerful antioxidants that are available in only a few commonly eaten foods. These include the quinone juglone, the tannin tellimagrandin, and the flavonol morin. These antioxidants are so powerful at free radical scavenging that research has shown they may prevent chemically induced liver damage, improve lipid profile and reduce inflammation – the precursor to almost all chronic disease.
Walnuts are, again, unique because they are rich in n-6 (linoleate) and n-3 (linolenate) polyunsaturated fatty acids. These particular fatty acids have been shown to have a beneficial effect upon cardiovascular disease. They also contain the amino acid l-arginine which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors. It is a key nutrient in promoting efficient blood flow and overall cardiovascular function.
Various studies show that eating walnuts helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the overall risk of coronary heart disease. A 2004 study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” found that the alpha-linolenic acid content in walnuts helps quell not only inflammation but also a number of other lipid cardiovascular risk factors linked to heart disease.
Folklore and history
As far back as 2000 BCE, the Chaldeans of Mesopotamia left inscriptions on clay tablets telling of walnut groves which graced the famous "Hanging Gardens of Babylon". These are the earliest written records mentioning walnuts.
The humble walnut makes an appearance in Greek mythology in the story of Carya, with whom the god Dionysus fell in love - when she died he transformed her into a walnut tree. Having been given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, the walnut tree was known as an oracular tree in Ancient Greece.
From Medieval times up until the end of the 18th century, Europeans were blanching, crushing and soaking walnuts and almonds to create a rich, nutritious milk which was a common household staple. While the poor dined on wild walnuts, the rich were able to afford the larger, more expensive, cultivated variety.
According to legend, when the gods walked upon the earth, they lived on walnuts; hence the name Juglans or Jovis glans, Jupiter's nut. The walnut tree has been cultivated in Europe since Roman times, although archaeological excavations from Neolithic times found petrified walnut shells that were roasted more than 8,000 years ago.
Just a handful of walnuts a day will supply you with a good dose of your recommended levels of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
Vitamins: E, B1, B6 & Folate (B9)
Minerals: Phosphorus, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Potassium and Iron