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But walnuts aren’t just for Christmas: they make a fine food all year round.
They make a tasty substitute for pine nuts in pesto; crushed into muesli, they bring an extra dimension to a hearty breakfast; and who can resist a moist slice of walnut cake?
Their mood-protecting powers may prove vital when family celebrations turn fraught.
And the nuts can also help our bodies to survive the rich festive food.
In fact, eating nuts does not appear to cause weight gain.
On the contrary, it can make people feel full and less likely to over-eat.
Studies are continuing into why walnuts have such strong curative powers, but Professor Elaine Hardman, of Marshall University School of Medicine in West Virginia, who led a study into the effect of walnuts on breast cancer, says it may be down to walnuts’ high content of essential omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols — unsaturated fats which seem to slow or prevent the development of tumours.While many are just cottoning on to the health benefits of walnuts, their medicinal properties were well known to physicians practising many centuries ago.In Ancient Greece and medieval Britain, doctors used walnuts to treat mental illness and headaches, believing that the nut’s skull-like shell and brain-shaped kernel symbolised its magical curative powers.A laboratory study presented to the American Association for Cancer Research in 2009 found that mice fed the human equivalent of 2 oz of walnuts a day significantly decreased their rate of breast cancer.
Similarly, a University of California study has found that male mice fed the equivalent of 14 nuts a week had far lower rates of prostate cancer.Walnuts contain a particular kind of omega-3 fatty acid, called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which seems to have special benefits for body and brain — even helping humans to deal with the stresses of modern life.Last October, investigators at Pennsylvania State University revealed research showing that the ALA in walnuts decrease the cardiovascular reactions which happen in our bodies when we feel under pressure.The nut’s connection with these shores is long-lived.