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Are You Going Nuts?

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Are You Going Nuts?

It could help your brain power!
Elaine  Wilkes Ph.D., N.C., M.A.
Elaine Wilkes Ph.D., N.C., M.A. More by this author
Feb 27, 2010 at 09:00 AM

Have you ever really looked at a walnut? The ancients observed that the meat of the walnut is encased in a hard protective shell, just like the “meat” of the human brain is encased in a hard protective skull. Furthermore, when you break open a walnut shell, the nut inside contains two halves resembling the brain’s two hemispheres. When you take the walnut out of the shell, it resembles the brain even more.

Nature’s Secret Message: Nature engages our imagination by offering us clues about the benefits of specific foods.

Interestingly, even our language relates this nut to the brain. For example, we say that someone is “driving us nuts,” “going nuts,” or a “total nutcase.”

Ancient people believed that because of the uncanny resemblance, walnuts must be beneficial for the human brain in some way. And this wasn’t a nutty concept! Today, walnuts are on many top-ten “superfood” lists because research shows that they contain beneficial omega-3 fats, which support brain function, increase memory, and help manage hyperactivity, depression, and even autism. The body can’t manufacture omega-3 fats, so we must get them from food sources such as nuts.

Among almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, walnuts, and pecans, can you guess which one has the largest amount of brain-enriching omega-3 fats? You’ve got it—the walnut! And here’s another fascinating coincidence: the brain and walnut are both made up of about 68 percent fat. (So if someone calls you a fathead, take it as a compliment!)

Another distinguishing feature of the walnut is its combination of both omega-3 fats and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), making it one of the few nonfish sources of these essential fats. (Flaxseeds also contain a high amount of ALA.)

And there’s more: research further shows that walnuts benefit the heart. According to findings from two large multicenter, randomized studies, these nuts are packed with fatty acids, nutrients, bioactive compounds, phytosterols, and folic acid—all of which may fight against heart disease. Walnuts also contain high levels of L-arginine, an essential amino acid known to help with hypertension, and ellagic acid, which dramatically decreases arteriosclerotic lesions in animals.1 Walnut oil contains no cholesterol and reduces the formation of new vascular plaque.

It’s mind-boggling how many nutrients and beneficial fats can fit into one compact shell.


  1. Somers, S., Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.
About Author
Elaine  Wilkes Ph.D., N.C., M.A.
Elaine Wilkes, Ph.D., N.C., M.A., was a self-proclaimed “learning addict” who ultimately discovered that the answers to most of life’s questions are found in nature’s magic. A nutritionist with a Ph.D. in naturopathy (alternative medicine) and a mast Continue reading