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Nuts are an excellent replacement for highly processed and less healthy snacks, but one is continuing to distinguish itself as the best!

A cupful of walnuts may be just what the doctor ordered to keep your heart and — your gut — healthy. Recent research shows that walnuts, in particular, can lessen a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

It’s long been determined that nuts are beneficial for our health. Still, researchers out of Texas Tech University in Lubbock and Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, wanted to learn more about how walnuts, in particular, may benefit the heart and their impact on the gut microbiome. They were curious as to whether or not it was possible that the heart benefits actually started in the gut. 

The researchers assigned specific diets to three groups of participants. The first was dubbed the “walnut diet” group, consisting of participants who ate 57–99 grams of walnuts daily, or roughly 1 cup of walnuts.

The second group ate the same amounts of omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid present in walnuts without eating walnuts. They were called the “matched walnut control diet” group.

The third group was assigned to supplement ALA with oleic acid — again, while not eating walnuts — and was referred to as the “oleic acid replaces ALA in diet without walnuts” group.

At the end of the 6-week diet periods, the researchers collected stool samples from the participants and analyzed the samples with metatranscriptomics “to investigate the gut microbiota composition and functionality.”

The findings showed that people who consumed the diet with walnuts had higher levels of the amino acid L-homoarginine in their guts. This is good news since people with lower levels of homoarginine are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. The results showed that it might be possible to improve heart health by making dietary changes that affect the gut.

The study results were presented at Discover DMB, which is the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, a cardiologist and professor at UCLA, not involved in this study, said the findings also support the idea of promoting “the concept of a Mediterranean-type diet as the most heart-healthy diet, which in some studies even has been shown to result in a regression of atherosclerosis (calcification/hardening) of the blood vessels in the heart, the brain, and even in the sexual organs. Even though we are aware of the long-term benefits of a Mediterranean diet, we do not know the exact mechanisms,” Dr. von Schwarz continued. “Therefore, this study — among others — helps us to understand possible biochemical pathways that are affected by dietary ingredients, including walnuts.”