Researchers are convinced—more than ever before—about the nutritional benefits of walnuts. Walnuts are delicious, satisfying, and packed with health benefits, but they rarely make it onto the short list of healthy foods.
When I was growing up, walnuts would pretty much only make an appearance during the holiday season, when my mother would use them to make Christmas sweets. But research demonstrates that you’d do well to keep these nutrient-dense nuts handy all year round.
Here’s why they deserve a prominent spot in your diet…
They’re chock-full of healthy fats, vitamins, and nutrients. For a long while, all fats were shunned as unhealthy, but we’re finally reaching the light at the end of that tunnel. It’s now widely known that only some fats are bad for you—and in almost every case, it’s the fats that have touted as the healthy ones (such as vegetable oil and other polyunsaturated fats).
Walnuts are high in healthy saturated fats, and low in carbohydrates (which are the real culprits when it comes to obesity and disease). They’re even a moderately good source of protein.
Researchers have also been surprised to find that walnuts pack a serious nutrient punch. They’re a good source of vitamin E, the full spectrum of B vitamins, melatonin, minerals like manganese, copper, zinc, magnesium, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron, and more antioxidants than any other nut.
They contain rare antioxidants—like quinone juglone, tellimagrandin, and morin—which are so powerful at scavenging free radicals that researchers refer to them as “remarkable.”
They fight (and prevent) chronic diseases like a champ. Once again, researchers have been pleasantly surprised by the potent disease-fighting power of the humble walnut.
Studies have demonstrated that they reduce the risk of a wide variety of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and male infertility. Just one serving of walnuts per day (a quarter to half a cup) can significantly lower fasting insulin levels,  inhibit the growth of breast and prostate tumors,  and improve sperm quality and motility. 
They are good for the brain. Walnuts contain a number of neuroprotective compounds, including vitamin E, folate,melatonin, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants. Research shows walnut consumption may support brain health, including increasing inferential reasoning in young adults and Alzheimer’s in seniors and adults.
One study also found that consuming high-antioxidant foods like walnuts “can decrease the enhanced vulnerability to oxidative stress that occurs in aging,” “increase health span,” and also “enhance cognitive and motor function in aging.” 
They are incredibly heart-healthy. Walnuts are particularly adept at keeping your heart strong and healthy. They’re very high in the amino acid l-arginine and the fatty acid alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)—and a diet rich in these compounds has been shown to decrease the risk of death from cardiac events by up to 50%. 
And you can begin reaping these benefits by eating just four walnuts a day (that’s all it takes to significantly boost your ALA levels). Up that to one ounce per day, and you can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk across the board.
They help you make smarter overall dietary choices. On top of being nutrient-dense, walnuts are also great at satisfying your appetite. Studies have shown that, for this reason, eating walnuts actually increases the overall quality of your diet—mainly because the satiety they provide helps you make smarter food choices throughout the day.
A study at Yale University Prevention Research Center found that when participants added just two ounces of walnuts to their daily diet, they displaced unhealthy foods and improved their cholesterol, blood pressure, and other markers of cardiovascular health.
And contrary to what you might expect, participants in this study actually lost weight (nuts are usually considered fattening). As with anything, walnuts should be eaten in moderation—as long as you follow this rule of thumb, though, walnuts can be greatly helpful for weight management. Another study showed that, just by adding a handful of walnuts to their daily diet, participants lost an extra 1.4 pounds and an inch off their waistline.
Eat Organic Walnuts (plus easy recipes)
Just remember that, as usual, organic is always a better choice than conventional—if you’re not buying organic walnuts, you can’t be sure you’re actually getting any of the benefits listed above. Not only do many conventionally grown foods lack the nutrients of their organic cousins—they can also be actively bad for your health, because of the pesticides and other toxins that they often contain.
The same goes for raw vs. pasteurized or roasted walnuts. Only truly raw walnuts live up to their highest nutrient-dense potential—any other kind is at best stripped of its beneficial components, and at worse irradiated or polluted by industrial processing.
This holiday season, try adding organic, raw walnuts to your diet with these delicious recipes…
Maple Glazed Walnuts
2 cups walnut halves
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat a dry skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the walnuts, maple syrup and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
2 cups raw, organic walnut halves
1 tablespoon raw honey
2 teaspoons olive oil or coconut oil (or other healthy oil of your choice)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix your honey and oil with 1 tablespoon of water and heat gently (high heat will destroy the enzymes in the honey). Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl and toss the walnuts in it (this way, the walnuts are not heated and remain raw), and sprinkle in the salt, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. You can also brown the spiced walnuts in a skillet for 2-3 minutes, but doing so will denature some of its beneficial components.
Serve your Spiced Walnuts as a healthy, satisfying appetizer, chop them up and sprinkle over side dishes, or add them to your favorite salad. See? Holiday cooking can be healthy!