If you only ever eat walnuts in your oatmeal or the occasional brownie, it’s time for a change, says nutrition expert Rebecca Ditkoff, MPH, RD, CDN. The nuts are surprisingly high in protein—4 grams in a quarter-cup serving. Plus, they serve up more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut. “Omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risk for heart disease, boost HDL [aka] ‘good’ cholesterol, and improve blood pressure,” Ditkoff says.
Convinced that you should add more to your plate? Try these seven creative and delicious ways to work them into your diet.
1. Fold them into ground meat dishes.
Looking for an easy way to add more plant-grown foods to your diet? Try swapping a third of the ground meat in your favourite recipes for finely chopped walnuts before cooking, Ditkoff recommends. The textures are surprisingly similar, and the nuts’ richness will help the dishes stay moist, Ditkoff explains. Plus, she adds, “You’ll cut the saturated fat but won’t sacrifice flavour or a significant amount of protein.”
Check out this recipe for mini Mexican meatloaves, or add an interesting twist to your next taco night. Just add Tex-Mex inspired spices like chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper to the meat-and-nut mixture before heating it on the stove, Ditkoff says. If you’re looking for a full-on recipe, these fiesta pork and walnut tacos are fire!
2. Top your avocado toast with them.
The combo of crispy bread plus creamy avo is always a winner in terms of taste, but not so much in the protein department. But topping your toast with a handful of chopped walnuts is an easy way to solve that problem, says Ditkoff. Plus, they add an addictively nutty flavor and crunchy texture. If you want even more protein, Ditkoff recommends topping your toast with a sunny-side-up egg, which adds six grams of the muscle-building nutrient.
3. Spice ‘em up and add to salads.
You probably don’t need us to tell you that croutons are empty carbs. Spiced walnuts, on the other hand, are a crunchy, flavour-packed salad topper that Ditkoff’s fully behind. “Thanks to their protein and fats, they’ll give your greens more staying power than croutons.”
To make them, drizzle the nuts with olive oil and a generous shake of your favourite spices (try za’atar, smoked paprika, and cumin, or curry powder and turmeric) and toss well to coat. Spread the seasoned nuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350°F until toasted, per the California Walnut Board. And don’t sleep on their chipotle-lime version.
4. Make walnut energy balls for a snack.
Walnuts make for a pretty filling snack all on their own, but Ditkoff points out you’ll really stay satisfied when you pair them with a source of complex carbs. These walnut, date, and oat energy balls are easy to make in the food processor, and just one or two of them is enough to power you through to your next meal. This step-by-step video breaks down how to make them:
5. Slather DIY walnut butter on…anything.
It’s an unexpected alternative to your usual peanut or almond butter—and it couldn’t be simpler to make. Just toss two cups of raw or toasted walnuts in a food processor with a pinch of salt and two teaspoons vegetable oil, and grind until you get a paste-like consistency, Ditkoff says. (It’ll take about five minutes.) Enjoy as a protein-packed partner for whole-grain crackers, fruit slices, or plain Greek yogurt.
6. Make a chocolate-and-walnut bark.
Taste-wise, you know the combo of walnuts and dark chocolate will never steer you wrong. It also serves up some serious health benefits. On top of walnut’s heart-healthy omega-3s, the chocolate serves up flavonols, powerful antioxidants that could help protect your brain.
Ditkoff likes pairing them together in a super simple chocolate bark: On a small cookie sheet, spread out an even layer of melted dark chocolate; scatter chopped walnuts and a sprinkle of sea salt on top. Let the chocolate cool completely (at room temperature), then break it into pieces and eat.