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home : columns : ask the doctors June 3, 2020

3/6/2020 4:43:00 PM
Walnuts considered the newest superfood

Dear Doctor: Everybody's suddenly talking about how it's important to eat some walnuts every day. Who decided that? Why is there always a new food fad?

Dear Reader: It's a challenge to keep up with the latest superfood that's going to change your life. Blueberries, broccoli, chia seeds, kale, acai berries, pea flour, fish oil, oatmeal -- and the list goes on -- have all had their day. Health promises include fast and easy weight loss, lower blood pressure, better cholesterol levels, improved mood and even disease prevention.

This wish for a cure-all is as old as time, with a diabetes remedy of okra and wheat germ dating back to ancient Egypt in 1550 B.C. Thousands of years later, we still love the notion of a food with special properties that extend beyond its nutritional profile. It's that ongoing wish for a magic bullet that fills our newscasts and headlines with an ever-changing list of miracle foods.

As you point out in your letter, one of the newest entries into the superfood pantheon is the walnut. The reason why is recent research that links walnuts to certain health benefits. A study from scientists at Penn State found that people who ate several ounces of walnuts each day saw an increase in the populations of several types of gut bacteria. Among these were gut bacteria associated with blood pressure regulation and with improved heart health. This echoes the findings of previous studies, which have linked a diet that includes walnuts with a reduced risk of heart disease. The subjects in the Penn State study also saw an increase in the numbers of a gut bacterium that may help to protect the lining of the gut. This holds promise for conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

The results of another study, conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center, was published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those findings suggested that eating walnuts may have a beneficial effect on cognitive decline in older adults who have existing risk factors for the condition. Similar effects on cognitive function were not seen in healthy older adults.

Both of these are small studies. The Penn State research included 42 volunteers. The Loma Linda University study looked at data from 640 "free-living" older adults in California and Spain. In addition, the authors of the Loma Linda University study disclosed that it was completed with funding from the California Walnut Commission.

We're not complete skeptics when it comes to superfoods. The truth is that many are indeed rich in an array of vitamins, minerals, fiber or micronutrients associated with improved health and well-being. But rather than concentrate on a few unique and important foods, we like to think in terms of what some licensed nutritionists are now calling the "super plate." That is, a healthful and balanced diet made up of whole, fresh foods from a wide variety of sources. You'll feel better, you won't get bored and your body will thank you.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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