It’s already been known that eating whole foods like nuts, which supply healthy fats, some beneficial nutrients and a little fiber, are protective for our hearts. Recent research though is now also showing that eating a daily dose of walnuts as part of a healthy diet may promote the proliferation of good gut bacteria that boost health, in addition to modifying certain risk factors for heart disease.
Previous research has shown that eating a diet low in saturated fats and that includes walnuts benefits heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Results of this new study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggest changes in the gut microbiome may explain the heart health benefits derived from eating walnuts. Walnuts are rich in fatty acids, bioactive compounds, and fiber that serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, who then manufacture other beneficial compounds for our bodies. Certain strains of these helpful critters may be beneficial in the following ways, according to the study results:
- Roseburia produces butyrate, a compound intestinal cells use as fuel and which also helps protect gut lining
- Eubacterium eligens were associated with improved blood pressure values
- Lachnospiraceae were associated with reductions in blood pressure, non-HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol
Study participants ate a standard Western diet for two weeks that included saturated fat. Test groups then followed a diet in which walnuts or vegetable oils replaced saturated fat for six weeks. Stool samples were collected before the ends of both diet phases. The group that added the walnuts showed higher levels of the Roseburia, Eubacteria eligens, and Lachnospiraceaebacteria. No improvements in heart disease risk factors were seen with the group where saturated fat was replaced with vegetable oils.
So, it may not be a bad idea to add some walnuts in to your daily diet if you’re looking to benefit both your gut AND your heart! Just be careful though. The walnut group consumed approximately 2 to 3.5 ounces of walnuts daily. One ounce of walnuts is about 12 to 14 halves or approximately one-quarter cup, which adds about 180 calories. If this is part of a balanced diet and you fit it within your calorie allowance, you shouldn’t have any problems adding this higher-fat, but health-protective food, as a healthy snack option or part of your meals.