Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Spinach and walnut salad                                        Photo by Valerie Phillips

I like all kind of nuts, but walnuts are probably my least favorite.
I guess that's because they are usually embedded in a recipe such as banana bread or brownies. I prefer nuts that have that "party food" vibe going on, such as cashews, almonds or even peanuts.
But I'm changing my opinion since finding out that walnuts are the only nuts that are high in that all-important omega-3 fat. While I was in Charleston at the Food News Seminar in April, I met Kaley Todd, a spokesman for California Walnuts.  She told me that walnuts contain 2.5 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) per ounce — way more than any other type of nut.  So, I wrote a column about them in this week's Deseret News .
Omega-3 fats are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, reduce symptoms of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, joint pain and rheumatoid problems.
Some research links omega-3s with boosting the immune system to help protect from illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease.
Other good sources of omega-3s are coldwater fish, such as salmon, and flax seed.
Due to the strength of clinical studies supporting walnuts and cardiovascular health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for walnuts in 2004, that "eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low-cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."
The catch is the "not resulting in increased caloric intake." Because whether it's "good" fat or "bad" fat, walnuts still contain lots of fat. An ounce of walnuts, which is 1/4 cup of shelled halves or pieces, contains 190 calories; 160 of those calories comes from fat.
Todd said the point is not to ADD nuts to your existing diet, but to SUBSTITUTE them for some of the high-fat stuff you're already eating.
Maybe it's that handful of potato chips, or an extra slice of dessert. That way, you're still taking in the same amount of calories, but they're healthier calories.  (Yes, I know, it's easier said than done. But, it's a thought....) 
And you don't have to eat a whole lot of walnuts at a time for them to do you some good.
They're expensive, but a little can go a long way. You can sprinkle chopped walnuts on your cereal. I like sprinkling them on a salad. When I sauté asparagus spears, I like to toss in a handful of chopped nuts as well.
I've made fragrant pesto with walnuts instead of the usual pine nuts, which are more pricey. 
Use the fresh basil growing in your summer garden; or buy a big bunch of basil at a farmers market. 

Here's a recipe for a walnut-based pesto, adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook," by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins.The pesto is good as a dip, or tossed into pasta or soup (especially minestrone). And you can freeze it to use later.

Basic Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup walnuts
1 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Romano cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Process basil, garlic, walnuts in a food processor. With the machine running, add olive oil. Add cheeses, a liberal dose of salt and a thin grinding of pepper.
Remove to a bowl and cover until ready to use.
Or, divide into small, plastic containers and freeze.
— adapted from"The Silver Palate Cookbook," by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

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