While you may not think of this nutritious nut as the most obvious choice for pre-bedtime snack, Cassetty says that walnuts pack a number of nutritional perks that make them both great for your health overall and help promote a restful night of sleep. We chatted with Cassetty to learn more about all of the above.
- Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, registered dietitian and nationally-recognized food, nutrition, and wellness expert with a private nutrition counseling practice
The many walnut benefits for restful sleep (and overall health)
“Walnuts contain more ALA—an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid—than any other nut,” says Cassetty. “Additionally, a serving of walnuts contains 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 11 percent of your daily magnesium requirement. They also supply a considerable amount of antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which have a beneficial effect on your gut health and reduce your risk of chronic disease."
And while you could (and should) snack on walnuts at any point of the day, Cassetty is particularly keen on eating walnuts before bed. “Walnuts contain numerous compounds that are tied to healthy sleep patterns,” she says. “They’re a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that your body uses to produce serotonin and melatonin, and both of these substances are involved in regulating your sleep.”
Further, walnuts actually contain melatonin, the hormone that governs your sleep-wake cycle that is necessary for quality sleep. So rather than taking melatonin pills, you could try snacking on a few walnuts to get your fix. Working hand-in-hand with melatonin, Cassetty notes, is the magnesium in walnuts. This relaxing mineral helps induce deep sleep. “If you think of your brain as having an on/off switch, magnesium is part of the machinery that turns the switch off. This helps you fall asleep; meanwhile, the rise in melatonin levels are making you feel sleepy, too,” she says. “They work in different ways, but they both facilitate quality sleep.”
Finally, because walnuts are an all-natural ingredient that are packed with healthy fats and fiber, they can also serve as the cornerstone to a well-balanced diet that promotes better sleep overall. “A diet that’s high in saturated fat and added sugar but low in fiber has been linked with sleep disturbances,” Cassetty points out. “On the other hand, a higher fiber diet that is lower in sugar and saturated fat may help with deeper, more restorative sleep. On top of supplying nutrients that are related to better sleep, walnuts fit into this dietary pattern perfectly, so they’re working numerous angles.”
What is the ideal amount of walnuts to consume?
Short answer: The limit does not exist. Maintaining your fatty nut intake is important, both before bed and throughout the day. According to Cassetty, “The reality is that most people could benefit from swapping one or two of their regular snacks with some walnuts. One study found that simply adding two ounces—or two servings—of walnuts per day for six months led to a more nutritious diet.” This is why she says that eating at least a couple servings per day, which works out to around 7 to 14 walnuts total, is ideal. Be that as it may, Cassetty maintains that variety is key to a healthy diet, and that your walnuts should be supplemented with other wholesome foods. She strongly emphasizes the importance of consuming a range of whole or minimally-processed plant foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
Delicious, RD-approved ways to eat walnuts
Luckily, walnuts are a highly versatile ingredient that work in both savory and sweet recipes, either as a core component or a garnish. Cassetty recommends eating them in their most natural form (i.e. raw), and using them to top yogurt parfaits, overnight oats, or salads. “You can also blend them into smoothies or whirl them into a dip,” she suggests.
If you’re looking for a creative application of walnuts, Cassetty adds her walnuts to a watermelon feta salad. “This three-ingredient salad has a wonderful combination of flavors and textures, and it is so nutritious,” she says. “Another favorite is a salad made with arugula, roasted beets, goat cheese, and walnuts. You can add roasted chicken or chickpeas—or both—to make this a main dish.”
Bottom line? Getting a good night’s rest is more crucial than ever, and noshing on walnuts is one delicious way to help get you there. “I think it’s empowering to learn that something as simple as upgrading your snack to include walnuts has the potential to have an impact on your mood, sleep, and well-being,” Cassetty says. “It’s common to think that you have to trade convenience or taste for healthfulness when eating, but there are no trade-offs with walnuts.” Next time you find yourself searching for a suitable bedtime snack, let your slippers guide you right over to your walnut stash.
Want more RD-approved tips on eating before bed? Watch this video here:
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