Eating walnuts has some major health benefits

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Looking for a quick snack that could be good for your gut and your heart? Try walnuts.

For those trying to up their health game, or just continue with their healthy habits, eating walnuts as part of a daily diet can have some major health boosts, according to a new study.

Researchers from Penn State University published their findings in the Journal of Nutrition, where they suggest that walnuts pack a two-way health benefit by helping your heart and gut.

“Replacing your usual snack — especially if it’s an unhealthy snack — with walnuts is a small change you can make to improve your diet,” said Kristina Petersen, an assistant research professor at Penn State, in a statement. “Substantial evidence shows that small improvements in diet greatly benefit health. Eating two to three ounces of walnuts a day as part of a healthy diet could be a good way to improve gut health and reduce the risk of heart disease.”

How researchers made their discovery came via a randomized, controlled trial where they found that by eating walnuts daily along with a balanced, healthy diet, it increased a bacteria that can boost health. They also observed that the changes in gut bacteria were linked to improvements with factors that can cause heart disease.

Researchers had 42 participants between the ages of 30 and 65 who were either overweight or obese, where the group was placed on what was deemed an “average American diet” for two weeks before the trial starters. Once that trial was over, participants were randomly placed on one of three diets that all contained less saturated fat than the start-up trial. According to researchers, the diets included one that had whole walnuts, one that had the same amount of alpha-linolenic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids without walnuts and one that had a substituted oleic acid — or fatty acid — that contained the same number of alpha-linolenic acid in walnuts, but walnuts were not included in this diet.

All participants followed the diet for six weeks, according to the study.

Following the end of the diet, researchers found that the walnut diet had associations in changes between gut bacteria and risk factors for heart disease, specifically eubacterium eligens, which were associated with reductions in risk factors.

“Foods like whole walnuts provide a diverse array of substrates — like fatty acids, fiber and bioactive compounds — for our gut microbiomes to feed on,” Regina Lamendella, an associate professor of biology at Juniata College, said. “In turn, this can help generate beneficial metabolites and other products for our bodies.”

This isn’t the first time walnuts have been linked to positive health benefits. Researchers at Harvard University found that eating a handful of nuts throughout the week can lower the risk of obesity and heart disease because they can activate a brain region that involves both appetite and impulse control.

Researchers from Penn State said future studies could help pinpoint additional health benefits of walnuts.

“The findings add to what we know about the health benefits of walnuts, this time moving toward their effects on gut health,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State. “The study gives us clues that nuts may change gut health, and now we’re interested in expanding that and looking into how it may affect blood sugar levels.”