Walnuts may not just be a tasty snack, they may also promote good-for-your-gut bacteria. New research suggests that these "good" bacteria could be contributing to the heart-health benefits of walnuts.
In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers found that eating walnuts daily as part of a healthy diet was associated with increases in certain bacteria that can help promote health. Additionally, those changes in gut bacteria were associated with improvements in some risk factors for heart disease.
Kristina Petersen, assistant research professor at Penn State, said the study -- recently published in the Journal of Nutrition -- suggests walnuts may be a heart- and gut-healthy snack.
Replacing your usual snack -- especially if it's an unhealthy snack -- with walnuts is a small change you can make to improve your diet. Substantial evidence shows that small improvements in diet greatly benefit health. Eating two to three ounces of walnuts a day as part of a healthy diet could be a good way to improve gut health and reduce the risk of heart disease." Kristina Petersen, assistant research professor at Penn State
Previous research has shown that walnuts, when combined with a diet low in saturated fats, may have heart-healthy benefits. For example, previous work demonstrated that eating whole walnuts daily lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
According to the researchers, other research has found that changes to the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract -- also known as the gut microbiome -- may help explain the cardiovascular benefits of walnuts.
"There's a lot of work being done on gut health and how it affects overall health," said Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State. "So, in addition to looking at factors like lipids and lipoproteins, we wanted to look at gut health. We also wanted to see if changes in gut health with walnut consumption were related to improvements in risk factors for heart disease."
For the study, the researchers recruited 42 participants with overweight or obesity who were between the ages of 30 and 65. Before the study began, participants were placed on an average American diet for two weeks.
After this "run-in" diet, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three study diets, all of which included less saturated fat than the run-in diet. The diets included one that incorporated whole walnuts, one that included the same amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids without walnuts, and one that partially substituted oleic acid (another fatty acid) for the same amount of ALA found in walnuts, without any walnuts. Related Stories
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