Don't Worry, Be Heart-Happy With Walnuts

The ongoing debate over eating fish continued last week with the release of two studies which both determine that the benefits outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women and children.

For the consumer, it's yet another wrinkle added to the already-confusing conundrum of weighing the heart-healthy benefits versus mercury and PCB contamination that has become a great cause of concern, particularly for women of child-bearing age and children.


Omega-3-rich walnut cookies. (Kim O'Donnel)

It's been long established that seafood, by and large, is a leaner way to get your daily dose of protein, than, say from a big ole rack of fatty ribs or a T-bone steak. But the more recently touted advantage of eating fish is the heart-healthy effects of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Quickly defined, Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids, which means that the body needs them, doesn't produce them and must get them from food. There are three major Omega-3s at play: Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA, the longer chain of acids that the body can readily absorb are found primarily in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, anchovies and mackerel, plus others such as halibut, cod and clams.

Meanwhile, the shorter chain of ALA comes from plant food sources such as soybeans (including tofu), flaxseed (and its oil), pumpkin seeds, leafy greens (including purslane!), canola (rapeseed) oil and walnuts, the subject of today's piece.

The body converts the ALA into EPA and DHA, which is great news for vegetarians and those on the fence on eating fish, but it has been argued in the medical research community that because of the conversion, the body needs more ALA-rich food in order for an effective absorption to take place, and that the conversion doesn't work in all bodies.

The American Heart Association recommends 1-2 grams of EPA and DHA, which, at the table, translates into a four-ounce portion of wild salmon (1.7 grams). In comparision, some ALA-rich foods beat out the salmon -- two tablespoons of flaxseeds contain 3.5 grams and 1/4 cup of walnuts contains 2.3 grams -- but, as mentioned earlier, it remains unclear if one must eat more of the ALA-rich food to receive the EPA and DHA benefits.

It should be noted, though that further down in its paper, the American Heart Association states, "We also recommend eating tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils."

As I continue to wade through the fish debate, I'll turn to plant sources of Omega-3s for the time being. Besides, I love walnuts -- throwing them frequently into salads and using them as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto. Now I am thinking even more that I need to up the walnut quotient in my life. Suggestions I found in several cookbooks include adding them to veg dishes -- broccoli, zucchini, winter squash and sweet potatoes, for starters. They're great in pasta, too.

Below, a recipe I found in "Best Foods Cookbook," a terrific resource for health-minded cooks. Author Dana Jacobi makes a walnut-centric cookie that's just terrific, a thin crispy wafer that feels afternoon-tea elegant. I love how those heart-healthy oils in the walnuts take over and eliminate the need for butter.

They're really quick to make, too; a batch of 24 can be yours in about an hour. Recipe note: I doubled original amounts, as the published amounts yielded about 12 cookies, far less than stated.

And, please, if you've got a walnut tidbit or another ALA-rich food find, share in the comments below.

For more info on Omega-3 fatty acids.

Walnut Crisps
Adapted from "Best Foods Cookbook" by Dana Jacobi

Ingredients
2 cups walnuts
2 large egg
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, finely chop the walnuts and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg using a wooden spoon until yolk and white are blended. Stir in sugar and beat vigorously until mixture resembles grainy caramel, about one minute. Mix in nuts and stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

Using two teaspoons, drop the batter onto baking sheets, using one spoon to scrape the batter off the other. With the back of a spoon, flatten and smooth each cooking into rounds, leaving at least one inch between cookies.

Bake for five minutes, then switch position of pans. Bake five to eight minutes longer, or until cookies are browned around the edges. Cookies may still be slightly soft when they come out of the oven, but they harden as they cool. Allow them to completely cool on baking sheets, then lift off parchment.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Walnut Crisps
Adapted from "Best Foods Cookbook" by Dana Jacobi

Ingredients
2 cups walnuts
2 large egg
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, finely chop the walnuts and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg using a wooden spoon until yolk and white are blended. Stir in sugar and beat vigorously until mixture resembles grainy caramel, about one minute. Mix in nuts and stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

Using two teaspoons, drop the batter onto baking sheets, using one spoon to scrape the batter off the other. With the back of a spoon, flatten and smooth each cooking into rounds, leaving at least one inch between cookies.

Bake for five minutes, then switch position of pans. Bake five to eight minutes longer, or until cookies are browned around the edges. Cookies may still be slightly soft when they come out of the oven, but they harden as they cool. Allow them to completely cool on baking sheets, then lift off parchment.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 11, 2007; 12:37 PM ET Nutrition
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Comments

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These sound great. I will be trying them since I have a big bag of walnuts in the freezer. Why do you specify beating the eggs with a wooden spoon?

Posted by: 20010 | October 11, 2007 2:44 PM

Hey 20010:
These are per Jacobi's instructions. I am assuming she nixes the idea of a whisk which would incorporate too much air, and when I did try the whisk with all the sugar, etc., it got mucked up with the batter.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 11, 2007 2:48 PM

Walnuts,Akhrot, as we call it in Hindi is very popular in North India during the winter months.Why not run a campaign all over India and the world promoting this nut, The price is however, a matter of concern for medium income families in India.

Posted by: dr.subbanarasu divakaran | October 11, 2007 3:06 PM

Broccoli and walnut (with cheese and tomato sauce) pizza. This was a signature offering of a pizza restaurant chain in the Boston MA area, now unfortunately defunct. Not an intuitive combination, in my view, but one that worked well.

Posted by: Paul from Arlington, MA | October 12, 2007 2:53 AM

yes, people seem to be skipping over the fact that there soon won't be any fish left in the seas to eat. other sources of omega-3 are smarter

Posted by: Ed Br uske | October 12, 2007 8:11 PM

Can walnuts be stored on the pantry shelf, or should they be refrigerated?

Posted by: Layla | October 15, 2007 10:48 AM

Layla, walnuts (and all nuts) are better stored in a cold environment like fridge or freezer because they contain naturally-occurring oils which eventually will go rancid even in a room-temp environment. The cold environment slows that process and keeps your nuts fresher for longer.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 17, 2007 1:10 PM

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