Eating walnuts may keep your digestive system happy. Researchers found that walnuts act as a prebiotic in the gut, increasing levels of good probiotic bacteria and as well as its diversity.
"Gut health is an emerging research area, but we are seeing that greater bacterial diversity may be associated with better health outcomes, whereas low diversity has been linked to conditions such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease," said lead researcher Lauri Byerley, Ph.D. of Louisiana State University.
In the study, rats were randomly assigned to a diet containing ground walnuts, equivalent to about 2 ounces (1/2 cup) per day in humans, or a diet without walnuts for up to 10 weeks. The two diet groups consumed similar amounts of calories and nutrients.
Compared to those that did not consume walnuts, rats that ate a walnut-enriched diet saw an increase in beneficial bacteria including Lactobacillus, Roseburia, and Ruminococcaceae.
"The health of the gut is related to overall health in the rest of the body," said Byerley. "Our study is showing that walnuts change the gut, which could help explain why there are other positive health benefits to eating walnuts such as heart and brain health."
One nutritional benefit of walnuts is a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.
Other studies have also found walnuts to be healthy. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a handful of walnuts daily can lower cholesterol levels.
Overweight and obese women ages 22 to 72 who ate a walnut-enriched diet showed improvements in cholesterol levels, especially the women who were insulin-resistant, when compared to those who didn't include walnuts in their diets. In addition to a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol, those who ate walnuts experienced a greater increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.
Walnuts can also lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes. A Harvard study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who ate 28 grams — a little less than an ounce — of walnuts twice a week were 24 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
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