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Brain Food: Walnuts are Hard to Break Into, But Worth the Effort

This entry is part of a series, Brain Food»

Walnut Smasher

Neil Sadaka was a man ahead of his time. He wrote and sang about walnuts in “Breaking In is Hard to Do.” However, by the time the song made the charts, they’d forced him to change the lyrics into some sappy love song. Nowadays, with the emerging love affair with tree nuts, those old record execs are changing their tune, I bet…

Walnuts are available many places in the world, but nowhere are they as wide-spread as in North America. The name doesn’t come from the hardness of the protective shell; actually, the name is from Old English and means “foreign nut.” There are a number of varieties, and the closest cousin is the hickory nut. Besides the nuts, walnut trees are prized for their hard wood, which makes fine furniture and other durable articles.

What about the walnut as a food? First off, of course, they’re very hard to get the nutmeat out of. That ought to tell you something about the quality of the stuff, eh? After all, if it’s locked up like Fort Knox, maybe there’s a reason. And in this case, that logic works.

Walnuts are Very Healthy Eats…

These tasty bits pack in fiber, B vitamins, plant sterols. and the antioxidant vitamin E (tocopherol). The major beneficial nutrients are fats, though. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, generally from the omega 3 fatty acid family; the “good” fats. These lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” lipid) and C-Reactive Protein, an independent marker of heart disease.

Okay, so they’re good for the ol’ ticker. That’s reason enough to chow down on these luscious lumps. They’re also good for your brain too. You can get a double-dip of benefits from them! The only tough part is getting the meat away from that tough outer shell.

These days, that’s not as hard as it was. You buy them shelled, of course.

Walnut Half

So what’s the downside to walnuts, since we’ve solved the problem of the shell? Well, they’re not cheap. A ton of walnuts yields less than four hundred pounds of nutmeat, after a whole lot of work. There are few walnut orchards, and most American production relies on hand harvest of wild walnuts. (That’s changing rapidly as demand for healthy tree nuts rises.)

Oh, and walnuts are not, shall we say, a weight-loss friend. They have plenty of calories per pound; all those fats, remember? They may be good fats, but they’re still calorie-laden.

That’s okay, though, from a diet and meal planning perspective. You don’t need to eat walnuts as an entrĂ©e! They work best as supporting characters, not the main actors. They can be tossed onto a salad to provide extra crunch and more flavor. They work well in desserts, baked and otherwise. Put some in green bean casserole for an added surprise, and you’ll always be invited back to the potlucks. They work in soups too. Use walnuts to make pesto for your pasta. And don’t forget the usual uses, in trail mix and other snacks, or all by themselves.

Can you imagine the balanced brain nutrition of a salad with walnuts, blueberries and Mandarin orange slices in it? I say go for it; I know what I’m fixing for dinner…

Enjoy the (Brain Shaped Brain Food) Heat!


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