Meet the Walnut: A True Superfood
More than being simply tasty and filling, walnuts offer an incredible number of advantages for our health. These include heart-protective benefits, preventing the development of diabetes, being high in protein and fiber, and helping to keep our bones strong. Studies have shown they may even assist in offsetting the inflammatory effect caused by eating a meal high in fat. Rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, the gamma tocopherol form of vitamin E, which has been shown to shield men in particular from developing cardiovascular problems, are in abundance. In a 2012 study, the antioxidant content of this nutraceutical extraordinaire was found to definitively slow the growth of breast cancer cells in women who consumed ½ cup or two servings of walnuts daily.
Whether served in a dish or as part of one, walnuts in whole form can claim the unique distinction of being a brain food shaped like an actual miniature brain! The two halves of the English or Persian walnut, joined in the middle by a small hinge, form two ridged wings and resemble a lacquered-wood butterfly, a kind of bioscale figurine:
Walnuts are a wonderful nutritional contradiction in that their fat helps fight fat and they are recommended for those looking to reduce their weight. Although relatively high in calories (approximately 18 grams of fat and 185 calories in an ounce, or about 14 halves), consuming walnuts in moderation may help fight inflammation, a known factor in the accumulation of excess weight. One study revealed that walnuts, when eaten daily in controlled portions over a 2-3 month period, reduced visceral fat (the kind closest to your organs and linked to strokes, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases) around the abdomen.
If chronic insomnia is making you, uh, nuts, you might want to try some walnuts for that too. Yup, our little buddies contain melatonin and adding them to your diet increases the amount of naturally occurring hormone melatonin in the human body which regulates sleep.
Walnuts grow inside a tough, fibrous husk, a kind of external botanical uterus that looks something like a green Granny Smith
apple. This covering encases the walnut’s shell, resembling a peach pit and the last component of the nut’s RussianDoll-like ever-diminishing biolayer structure:
Walnut skin can contain certain bitter notes that some might find objectionable, however eating it is encouraged, as rare and powerful phytonutrients including tannin telemigrandin and the flavonol morin find their home inside the skin. Strategic preparation and seasoning can of course help to counteract the unwanted strong taste.
Not Only Healthy, But a Culinary Delight With a Rich History
Make no mistake, walnuts and their trees are arboreal elders. Walnut shell remains found in Iraq’s Shanidar caves date all the way back to 50,000 B.C., and according to inscriptions on clay tablets made by ancient Chaldeans, walnut groves made their home near the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and are also mentioned in Mesopotamian king Hammurabi’s Code.
More remnants dating back to the Neolithic period have been found in Switzerland, along with Turkey and Italy. In more recent history, black walnuts along with almonds and other nuts enjoyed household staple status as a nut milk in medieval European households as well as in the diet of Native Americans. The Algonquin Peoples called their beverage pawchiccora, a nut milk that could be drunk on its own or used as a base for soups.
The two primary varieties of walnuts growing in the United States are the Persian or English and black walnuts. The English walnut originated in Persia; its “English” alias is derived from the English merchant marines who transported the nut across the world through trade.
Black walnuts have a stronger flavor and are thicker-shelled than their English counterpart. Over 90 percent of the U.S.’s English walnuts are grown in California, produced almost exclusively in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Black and English walnuts also thrive in Ontario, as these hardy cultivars can withstand the region’s severe cold. Persian walnuts from Ontario are sweeter than their California counterparts.
The term “self-medicating with food” often carries a negative connotation of stuffing yourself as a way of self-comfort to ease emotions, but as a solidly established superfood, walnuts contain many properties that nourish and heal, just the kind of self-medicating all of us can benefit from.