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Eating walnuts may keep you independent longer

Created date

September 22nd, 2016
Walnuts are unique because they are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fat.

Walnuts are unique because they are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fat.

For several years, it’s been known that eating a handful of nuts each day can reduce your risk of heart disease. Now, Harvard Medical School researchers have found that walnuts might have an additional benefit, especially for women.

Although high in fat, nuts contain nutrients such as unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and fiber. Walnuts are unique because they are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fat—a type of fat that’s especially good for heart health. Among all nuts, only walnuts contain a significant amount (2.5 grams per ounce) of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.

The researchers extracted data from 54,762 women who are enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, which is a longitudinal investigation about women’s risk factors for chronic diseases. Part of the study involves questionnaires in which participants provide detailed information about lifestyle habits, including diet and exercise patterns.

Physical benefits 

Analysis of the data revealed that women who ate one to two servings (1/4 cup per serving) of walnuts each week had a reduced risk of physical function impairments and thus were able to stay independent longer. Functional impairments can arise from chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. They can affect the ability to carry out daily tasks such as preparing meals, bathing, or dressing—all of which are essential to maintain independence.

Researchers stress that the results of this study should be interpreted with caution because the data from questionnaires can be misreported. In addition, study authors emphasized that overall diet quality, instead of individual food choices, may be responsible for lowering risk of physical functional impairments. 

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