Walnuts and Diabetes: A Natural Pairing

Walnuts Can Help Your Heart

bowl of walnuts
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When you have diabetes, you want to think about how to eat to manage your blood sugar levels. But you should also consider eating to prevent the complications so often seen with type 2 diabetes, including heart disease. Walnuts are one food you should consider adding to your diabetic diet, since they can help your heart. Here's why.

How Are Walnuts Good for Your Heart?

Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include reducing inflammation and providing a level of protection from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

People with diabetes often have high triglycerides and low HDL levels. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL, so eating walnuts or foods high in omega-3s may help people with diabetes. In fact, even a relatively small amount of walnuts each day (about 1-2 ounces) has been shown to improve some cardiovascular markers in people with diabetes -- most notably, improved cholesterol levels.

Walnuts and Diabetes: What the Research Says

There have been several studies that have specifically focused on the effects of adding walnuts to the diets of people with diabetes or at risk for diabetes.

In epidemiological studies, researchers have found that eating nuts is correlated with a lower incidence of heart disease in men and women and a lower incidence of diabetes in women.

Eating nuts lowered the presence of incident diabetes (diabetic blood sugar levels) by 50% and heart disease risk by 30% in a long-term nutrition intervention published in the April 2015 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.

Aren't Walnuts Really High in Calories?

Walnuts are a very calorie- and nutrient-dense food.

A quarter cup of walnuts provides about 165 calories, but also 3.8 grams of protein, 3.4 grams of carbohydrate, 16 grams of fat, and 1.7 grams of fiber. Walnuts are also good sources of copper, manganese, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6.

Despite their high calories, however, adding them to your diet may not change your overall calorie intake. A 2015 study in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care found that people at risk for diabetes who were told to eat two servings a day of walnuts (366 calories worth) for 6 months ended up having better overall diet quality, total and LDL cholesterol and endothelial function (which is part of having healthy blood pressure) and had no effect on BMI or body fat (meaning there was no significant weight loss or gain). That was true whether or not those participants had received counseling about how to adjust their calorie intake to compensate for the extra calories for walnuts.

This has been backed up by other studies on nuts, which have shown that eating nuts doesn't seem to have much of an effect on weight.

How to Eat More Walnuts

There are many ways you can add walnuts to your daily diet. Toss them on a salad, chop them up and throw them in a pilaf, or grind them and mix them in with the breadcrumbs you'll use to bread your chicken or fish. Walnuts lend a pleasant crunch, followed by a heart-healthy omega-3 punch!

Sources:

American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org

Angerer P, von Schacky C. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the cardiovascular system. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2000;11(1):57-63.

Balk EM, Lichtenstein AH, Chung M et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on serum markers of cardiovascular disease risk: A systematic review. Atherosclerosis. 2006 Nov;189(1):19-30.

Chan EJ, Cho L. What can we expect from omega-3 fatty acids? Cleve Clin J Med. 2009 Apr;76(4):245-51. Review.

Gillen LJ, Tapsell LC, Patch CS, Owen A, Batterham M. Structured dietary advice incorporating walnuts achieves optimal fat and energy balance in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Jul;105(7):1087-96.

Riediger ND, Othman RA, Suh M, Moghadasian MH. A systemic review of the roles of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Apr;109(4):668-79. Review.

Ros, E. Nuts and CVD. British Journal of Nutrition, April 2015.

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