During this time of year when diet and exercise are a top priority, more and more people are grabbing a handful of walnuts.  According to new research published in Food and Function, researchers from The University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa., compared the amount of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols in nine types of roasted and raw nuts and two types of peanut butter in an attempt to “crack” the antioxidant code. The results? Walnuts are the valedictorian.

The analysis found the content and quality, or potency, of antioxidants present in walnuts was highest among the nuts. According to lead researcher Professor Joseph Vinson, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry at The University of Scranton, “A handful of walnuts has almost twice the antioxidant content as an equivalent amount of any other commonly consumed nut.”

Dr. Vinson thinks consumers are confused about antioxidants and do not truly understand what foods are good sources of antioxidants or what they do. Antioxidant compounds neutralize agents in the body called free radicals that do damage to cell membranes, perhaps leading to cancer, heart disease, premature aging and cell death.  Polyphenols are one type of antioxidant that specifically target LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and are known to help protect the heart and fight atherosclerosis by slowing plaque buildup and improving artery and vein health.

Walnuts are a convenient nutrition powerhouse that Dr. Vinson suggests should be included more frequently in the diet.  “In addition to providing fiber, high-quality protein and an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), our research shows that an ounce of walnuts has more antioxidants than the daily sum of what the average person gets from fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Vinson. He certainly does not believe consumers should replace fruits or vegetables, however, considering the nutrient profile and research supporting the health properties of walnuts, Dr. Vinson thinks “people would be ‘nuts’ not to consume them daily.”

Registered Dietitian Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, adds, “Dr. Vinson’s research gives us another great reason to incorporate nutrient-rich nuts in our diet and it's exciting to see the omega-3 rich walnuts ranked highest in polyphenols – an important group of antioxidants with a promising array of health benefits from our brains to our hearts and beyond. This research further shows us why we should feel good about sprinkling, spooning and snacking on walnuts as a delicious AND nutritious part of our every day.”