5 reasons dietitians are reaching for walnuts for Heart Health month

By Melissa Boncher, Hy-Vee Dietitian


When it comes to heart health, it might surprise you that eating a calorie-dense, high-fat snack (we?re looking at you, walnuts) is a good choice for cardiovascular health. But it?s true. Here?s a few reasons you should consider reaching for a small handful of walnuts.

Walnuts are the only nuts that contain significant amounts of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body uses this type of fat for energy, and to a limited degree, it can convert ALA into EPA and DHA ? the essential omega-3s you get from certain fatty fish.

Researchers at Yale University recently found that participants in a study who ate two ounces of walnuts every day for six months had significant reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol.

In addition to lowering cholesterol, studies show that walnuts may also help decrease blood pressure.

Walnuts contain powerful antioxidants and polyphenols that may help prevent cancer as well as memory loss and cognitive decline.

A 1/4 cup serving of walnuts also gives you two grams of fiber, a nutrient that can help lower cholesterol and help you feel full. Americans eating a 2,000-calorie diet should aim for 28 grams of fiber daily.

Plus, walnuts are delicious. In baked goods, on cereals, mixed into breading for fish or chicken, pureed into dips or spreads ? there?s no shortage of ways to use walnuts. But because they?re high in calories, it?s important to adjust your diet accordingly. For reference, a 1/4 cup serving has about 190 calories.

You can also get similar benefits from using walnut oil (which has about 120 calories in 1 tablespoon). However, because walnut oil can taste bitter if heated, it?s best to use it as a dipping oil for bread or to lightly dress salads and vegetables.

Here are two recipes you can try to add walnuts to your diet:


Basil-Spinach Pesto

with Walnuts

Makes 16 servings

Pesto is a flavorful combination of fresh basil, nuts, garlic, and Parmesan. Use it to add a taste of Italy to sandwiches, pizzas, sauces, pastas and even eggs.



1/3 c. walnuts, finely chopped

1 c. packed basil leaves (about 2 oz)

1 c. packed spinach leaves (about 2 oz)

1/2 c. finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

pinch red pepper flakes, optional

2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place walnuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes; remove and set aside to cool.

3. In a food processor, combine basil, spinach, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes, if desired. Cover and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add oil and process until thoroughly combined.

4. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for up to one month. Thaw frozen pesto in refrigerator overnight.


Nutrition facts per serving: 110 calories, 11g fat, 2g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 115mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugar, 2g protein


Chunky Monkey Overnight Oats

Serves 4

Walnuts are a heart-healthy addition to breakfast. Try them in this playful take on overnight oats.



2 c. 2% reduced-fat milk

1 1/2 old fashioned oats

2 medium bananas, ripe, cut into chunks, divided

3/4 c. California Walnuts, chopped, divided

5 tbsp. semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract



1. Divide milk, oats, 1 medium banana, 1/2 cup walnuts, 3 tablespoons chocolate chips, and vanilla extract equally between 4 Mason jars. Cover and shake to combine. Refrigerate overnight.

2. When ready to serve, top with reserved banana slices, chocolate chips, and walnuts, if desired.


Nutrition facts per serving: 430 calories, 23g fat, 6g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 60mg sodium, 51g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 21g sugar, 12g protein

Learn more about walnuts and find recipes at