Roz Crowley

Food, wine, travel, music

Nuts for health. Walnuts in detail.

As an addition to my nut spread survey in the Irish Examiner 9 October 2015, there is much to say about the value of including nuts in the diet. I have featured walnuts below for more details and recipe ideas.

Almonds: With 20% protein, almonds have more than in eggs and plenty of calcium too. They have good fats and minerals, including potassium, since, magnesium and iron. Consume with vitamin-C rich foods so the benefits are absorbed well.

We can save money on almond milk by making our own. Cover a handful of whole almonds in warm water and allow to soak for 10 minutes. Blend and add a litre of water. Strain if you like, or add a little honey to make a thick drink.

Coconuts: The least nutritious of nuts, and with quite a lot of saturated fats, best used in moderation.

Hazelnuts: Good for protein, iron, magnesium, zinc and skin-loving vitamin E, chopped and roasted in a dry pan for a couple of minutes, these can be added to pep up simple seasonal soups such as potato, carrot, parsnip. Sprinkle on cakes and ice-cream and blend with a little plain chocolate for a treat.

Pistachios: A good source of protein, vitamins A and E potassium, iron and zinc be careful when buying them as they are often very high in salt which undoes some of the good. I make them into a paste with olive oil and lemon juice, following an idea from chef Christian Puglisi whose cookery demonstration at Ballymaloe Litfest was one of the highlights. Use it as a dressing for salads, on bread, added to soups, stews and stir-fries.

FEATURED NUT

Walnuts

Scientists have confirmed that the walnut not only looks like the brain but is excellent food for it. The brain, with its own pharmacopeia, converts walnut flesh into some 50 to 60 neurotransmitters for cognitive enhancement, that is it makes us tick!

But modern scientists were not the first to tell us. The name for walnut in Afghanistan, charmarghz means four brains and the ancient Greeks in a 2,800 year-old scroll decreed that the walnut was brain food. They believed that if a woman nibbled on walnuts before and during pregnancy, she would give birth to children of higher intelligence. They looked at the shell, noting it resembled the cranial cap. Then, breaking the nut open, noted the shape like a left hemisphere, a right hemisphere, the upper cerebrums, the lower cerebellums and the little membrane that connects the entire nut known as the corpus callosum. They even noted the convoluted folds of the cortex on the surface of that nut. Believing that the appearance of food reflected their benefits, they also looked at a sliced carrot and saw the core and radiating lines like the human eye, so they considered the carrot good for the eyes. Science agrees with their conclusion. The ancient Inca looked at the avocado with its signature of a womb, with a cervix and a swollen seed and decided it was good for the female reproductive organs. The University of California Berkeley discovered that the avocado contains an active catalyst that actually can assist in the prevention of cervical cancers, distension of the womb, and lesions of the womb.

Now with the help of diagnostic tools and analysis we find that what is good for the brain also befits the rest of the body. Walnuts are low in sodium and saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats they provide protein, a small quantity of zinc, vitamin E and useful amounts of folate. They help the immune system, digestive system, heart and circulation.

High too in vitamin A, B, and C, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, they can help to ease diarrhoea. With astringent and cholesterol lowering properties they have been found to be good for getting rid of intestinal parasites. Walnut oil with its high Vitamin E content can be applied to skin affected by dermatitis and eczema. But it is the linoleic and oleic acid which is stunning scientists who believe that they may soon prove that walnuts can lower blood fats that cause hardening of the arteries.
Walnuts are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain fish and have been shown to lower triglyceride levels, but not levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol” that contributes to the buildup of fatty deposits inside arteries. However, omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to lower LDL levels. The seven-to-one ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat is one of the highest in naturally occurring foods. This may sound like a lot of talk about fatty acids, but we must remember that these are what can kill or cure us. High levels of LDL and triglycerides are known to increase a person’s risk of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in in Ireland.

Walnuts are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some oily fish and have been shown to lower triglyceride levels (triglycerides are responsible for increasing susceptibility to strokes), but not levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad cholesterol” that contributes to the build-up of fatty deposits inside arteries. However, omega-6 fatty acids, despite their reputation as the evil sister of the healthy Omega 3m have been shown to lower LDL levels, so even these fats when found naturally in walnuts make a contribution to good health. The seven-to-one ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat in walnuts is one of the highest in naturally occurring foods. This may sound like a lot of talk about fatty acids, but we must remember that these are what can kill or cure us. High levels of LDL and triglycerides are known to increase our risk of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in in Ireland.
Just as we know that some fish contain fatty acids that have been shown to help lower the risk of coronary artery disease, walnuts have been found to contain the same kind of fatty acids and this is what researchers are further investigating .

For the moment what we know is that walnuts can be included as part of a low-fat diet to replace foods high in saturated fat and that a handful of walnuts a day could make a Mediterranean diet even healthier. We have been told that the body craves fat in some form or other and if bodies can be satisfied with the fat found in walnuts we may be on to a winner.
A team of researchers from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and Loma Linda University in California combined their efforts and studied 49 men and women ranging in age from 28 to 72 at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona’s Lipid Section. All had high cholesterol. For six weeks, the participants followed a cholesterol-lowering Mediterranean diet at home. For another six weeks, they consumed a similar diet in which a handful of walnuts replaced 35 percent of the energy from monounsaturated fat. As expected, the Mediterranean diet lowered cholesterol significantly, but the walnuts diet was even better, reducing serum cholesterol 4.1 percent, LDL cholesterol 5.9 percent, and lipoprotein(a) 6.2 percent more than the typical Mediterranean diet.
“Walnuts lowered the risk of coronary heart disease by 11 percent,” says Emilio Ros, M.D., the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona researcher who directed the study. “It’s as simple as this: if you eat a handful of walnuts a day, you will lower your blood cholesterol, and therefore lower your cardiovascular risk.”
The subjects ate at home and consumed walnuts with meals in desserts or salads, or as snacks. “This kind of ‘free-living’ trial is the best indicator of how likely people are to adopt these dietary changes in their daily lives,” says Dr. Ros.
The walnuts diet was even better, reducing serum cholesterol 4.1 percent, LDL cholesterol 5.9 percent, and lipoprotein(a) 6.2 percent more than the typical Mediterranean diet.
“Walnuts lowered the risk of coronary heart disease by 11 percent,” says Emilio Ros, M.D., the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona researcher who directed the study. “It’s as simple as this: if you eat a handful of walnuts a day, you will lower your blood cholesterol, and therefore lower your cardiovascular risk.”

HOW TO USE WALNUTS

Added to salads, stir fries or just as a snack, instead of biscuits or sweets, walnuts can be easily incorporated into the diet. As a rule, the paler the walnut, the better the flavour will be.

Walnut oil is rich in minerals, but is strong tasting so is best diluted with sunflower or other light and tasteless oils for dressings. It is a traditional salad and cooking oil of France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, but is less used these days as it has become very expensive. Made with ripe nuts, the varieties are chosen for their oiliness and stored for two or three months before being pressed. In their raw state the pale coloured walnuts which yield a pale, milky juice, becomes a light, clean oil with a definite flavour. Unfortunately it does not keep well so it is best bought is small bottles. A tablespoon can be added to vegetable juices, gravies, sauces and stews to enhance their flavour and provide therapeutic value.

Walnut ketchup is made using green walnuts, picked before their shells have hardened. They are edible as they are, but are very sour. The pickles, ketchups, marmalade and jams can be found in Asian markets and are a delicious accompaniment to meats and vegetarian dishes.

The classic Persian ëfesenjaní is a rich stew of duck, chicken, game or lamb with walnuts and pomegranate juice. For excitement and interest in any simple stew, add walnuts with some fruit juice at the last minute depending on what piquancy is required.
French walnut soup is delicious, quite gritty, but also full of rich flavours, especially good when a good chicken stock is used. Walnut sauce with horseradish is delicious, and with garlic and oil makes a dressing for meats and salads.

In Italian sauces for pasta, walnuts are often used, and also ground finely for pesto instead of pine nuts.

Ripe walnuts are available in the shell and are usually bleached to improve their appearance. Before bleaching they can have a grey-black growth which makes them a little unsightly, but are edible for a few weeks. Bleaching helps to allow them to be stored for several months.

Ripe walnuts are mostly eaten as dessert nuts or used in cakes, desserts and confectionery of all kinds, from ice-cream to Baklava. Adding walnuts to cakes and biscuits gives them nutritional value, add them to mixtures on decorate on top. I like them caramelized and served with goats cheese. A modern classic.

Where to Find them: Walnuts can be grown in Ireland, but in mild microclimates only. They do not like damp weather, so you can be lucky in some counties. There are a dozen species of walnut tree with edible nuts, and they come from a family which also includes the pecan and the hickory nut. The PÈrigord region in the south west of France grows quite a quantity of the varieties Corne and Marbot, and the group known collectively as Grenobles are also found there. There is not an exact word for nut in French, but the word noix which is generally translated as nut, usually refers to the walnut. There is a small variety about the size of a hazelnut known as Noix Noisette, and the Noix Cerneau rouge has a red kernel skin, while the Noix Coque Tendre has a very thin shell.
Others like their Pecan cousins are cultivated in large farms in the USA, while wild varieties are found growing in many parts of Asia and have been eaten and gathered since prehistoric times. In Italy walnut growing is mainly centred in the south in Naples, Salerno and Sorrento. The soft shelled variety Sorrento is the most common.

The fruit grows as a green drupe, with flesh surrounding a hard-shelled stone or nut. Inside the nut is the edible kernel. When the fruit is very young and green, the fleshy outside part can be eaten. At this time the shell is undeveloped, so the entire fruit is edible, although sour in taste (and used as above in preserves). As the fruit ripens the fleshy part becomes thin and leathery, as we see it.

In Roman times walnuts were thrown at the bride and groom after wedding ceremonies to wish them long fertility. In must have come as some relief to delicate brides when rice replaced them.

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This entry was posted on October 9, 2015 by in Food, Recipes, Roz's Raves, survey and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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