Walnuts have long been praised for their health benefits, with the nut known to contain protein and several dietary minerals.

Walnut, a well known healthy superfood © CC0 pixabay/maxmann

Now, researchers from Penn State University have discovered that eating the nuts each day as part of a balanced diet increases certain bacteria that can help promote health.

In addition, those changes in gut bacteria were associated with improvements in some risk factors for heart disease.

“Replacing your usual snack – especially if it’s an unhealthy snack – with walnuts is a small change you can make to improve your diet,” said Kristina Petersen, assistant research professor. “Substantial evidence shows that small improvements in diet greatly benefit health. Eating two to three ounces of walnuts a day as part of a healthy diet could be a good way to improve gut health and reduce the risk of heart disease.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 42 people between the ages of 30 and 65 who were classed as overweight or obese. They were placed on an American diet for two weeks, before being switched to an eating plan that included less saturated fat, with one of the new diets incorporating whole walnuts, and the other two containing other fatty acids without the nuts.

The experts then analysed the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, and found that those who abided by the walnut-focused diet had significant associations between changes in gut bacteria and risk factors for heart disease.

“The findings add to what we know about the health benefits of walnuts, this time moving toward their effects on gut health,” added Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition. “The study gives us clues that nuts may change gut health, and now we’re interested in expanding that and looking into how it may affect blood sugar levels.”

Full study results have been published in the Journal of Nutrition.

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