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Study finds walnuts are key to healthful eating

By: Laura Newell, Features Editor
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A new study showing the benefit of a Mediterranean-based diet has some local roots.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published findings from the Spanish PREDIMED (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterranea) trial, reporting that a Mediterranean diet including nuts, primarily walnuts, reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases including myocardial infarction, stroke or cardiovascular death by 30 percent and specifically reduced the risk of stroke by 49 percent when compared to a reference diet consisting of a low-fat diet.

The California Walnut Commission supplied the walnuts for the study, said Dennis Balint, chief executive officer. The California Walnut Commission office headquarters is located at 101 Parkshore Drive in Folsom.

Co-investigator Dr. Emilio Ros said the unique nutrient profile of walnuts may be a key factor responsible for the benefits reported in the PREDIMED study.

“In addition to being the only nut containing significant amounts of alpha-linolenic acid – the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid – walnuts offer numerous antioxidants and additional nutrients that, I believe, work together synergistically to produce their cardiovascular protective effect,” Ros said.  

The trial included 7,447 individuals, 55-80 years old, at high cardiovascular risk that were followed for an average of 4.8 years.

Balint, a Folsom resident, assumed his current position in 1995, heading the California Walnut Board and the California Walnut Commission. He joined the commission in 1987 as the marketing director and in 1993 assumed similar responsibilities for the board.

The two organizations represent more than 4,000 walnut growers in California, as well as 80 handlers who process, package and market California walnuts.

He said since moving their office to Folsom six years ago, many Folsom residents were hired and were able to be a part of the study.

In the Folsom office, employees work on production, irrigation and market research as well as foreign development and other areas to be as beneficial for the customer as possible, Balint said.

“I believe in this product in my heart of hearts,” Balint said. “I believe in this product and will stand by it.”

He said other health professionals also believe in walnuts including Mehmet Cengiz Oz, also known as Dr. Oz.

“This is an easy product to follow. When it’s real, it’s real,” Balint said.

He said this study will help people better understand the importance of walnuts.

“Walnuts were always considered an ingredient food for recipes like banana nut bread or a salad topper,” he said. “But with the popularity of healthful snacking, walnuts are seen as more of an individual ingredient or snack.”

He said the recommended daily serving for walnuts is about one ounce.

“This can easily be included into your daily routine,” he said. “Just keep a handful of walnuts in your desk drawer at work to snack on or even have them chopped up into your morning breakfast smoothie.”

For other walnut recipes and ideas, Balint suggests visiting the California Walnut Commission website for updated ideas.

For more industry information, health research and recipe ideas visit walnuts.org.