Are Almonds Healthier or Walnuts?

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on August 19, 2020

Almonds and walnuts are wonderful additions to a well-balanced diet. Both enrich the body with various nutrients and have the potential to prevent or aid the management of various health problems. But, have you ever wondered how almonds and walnuts compare to each other? What’s healthier? Read on to find out.

An overview of almonds

Almond (Prunus dulcis) is a tree native to Iran and other regions of southwestern Asia. The tree is primarily cultivated in areas with a Mediterranean climate. 

From there, people who sailed in the Mediterranean introduced almonds to northern Africa and southern Europe. Then, almond reached other parts of the world, including California. 

Although almond isn’t native to California, this state produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the US commercial supply (1). 

Historically, almond trees grew wild in Iran and surrounding regions and were cultivated later as early as 3000 BC.

An overview of walnuts

The term walnut refers to any of about 20 species of deciduous trees from the genus Juglans (from the family Juglandaceae). The two most notable species of walnuts are the Persian or English walnut and the black walnut.

While the English or Persian walnut originated in Iran (Persia), the black walnut is native to eastern North America (2).

Interestingly, walnut is one of the oldest tree foods known to man, dating back to 7000 BC. Back in time, in Persia, walnuts were reserved for royalty and wealthy people only. 

The importance of walnuts is best observed through the fact it was a subject of trade along the Silk Road route between Asia and the Middle East. Caravans carried walnuts to different regions. Little by little, walnuts became widely consumed across the globe.

The world’s biggest producer of walnuts is China, followed by other countries such as the US, Turkey, European Union, Ukraine, and Moldova (3). 

Neither are true nuts.

Yes, we’re serious!

Walnuts and almonds are considered as the most popular types of nuts, although technically they don’t belong to that category. 

Botanically speaking, the true nut is a hard-shelled pod that contains both the fruit and seed of the plant. The fruit doesn’t open to release seed into the world. True botanical nuts are hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. 

Walnuts and almonds are seeds of drupes. A drupe is a type of fruit wherein the outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside.

However, their structure and composition make it easier for people to refer to almonds and walnuts as nuts. Plus, their health benefits make it a perfect addition to a nut-rich diet. 

Almonds vs. walnuts: nutritional comparison 

Nutritional profiles of almonds (4) and walnuts (5) are similar. For the sake of comparison of these popular nuts, as we popularly refer to them, it’s important to address their composition. Take a look at the table below to see the nutritional structure of 1oz (30g) of each.

AlmondsWalnuts
Calories170185
Fat15g18.5g
Protein6g4.3g
Carbohydrates 6g4g
Fiber3g2g
Vitamin E6.78 mg 

(45% of the DV)

0.198mg

(1.3% of the DV)

Phosphorus 134mg

(11% of the DV)

98.1mg

(8% of the DV)

Magnesium79.1mg

(19% of the DV)

44.8mg

(11% of the DV)

 

As seen above, almonds and walnuts are similar in their calories, fat, protein, carbs, and fiber content. That being said, almonds do contain more minerals.

Walnuts have the advantage over almonds when it comes to Omega-3 fatty acids. The body needs Omega-3 fatty acids to function properly. While Omega-3s are mainly found in salmon and other fatty fish, some plant-based sources exist too. This is where walnuts step in! You see, walnuts contain a higher level of Omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant-based source. Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and other nuts can’t match them in this category (6). 

Alpha-linoleic acid is a plant-based essential Omega-3 fatty acid that must be obtained through the diet (7). In fact, ALA is the most common type of Omega-3s found in the diet. Before the body can utilize ALA, though, it needs to be converted to other types of Omega-3s EPA and DHA. What many people don’t know is that the health benefits of ALA are numerous. They include anti-inflammatory properties, improved blood sugar control, management of insulin resistance, skin health, just to name a few. 

VERDICT: There is no clear winner here. The macronutrient content of walnuts and almonds is similar. While almonds contain more minerals, walnuts are more abundant in Omega-3 content.

Almonds vs. walnuts: health benefits side by side

How many times have you come across articles about a well-balanced diet and noticed the author recommended the consumption of nuts, especially walnuts and almonds? A well-balanced diet should extend to the intake of almonds and walnuts due to their impressive health benefits. Indeed, walnuts and almonds can exhibit a positive impact on your health and quality of life. Is there any clear winner here? Let’s take a look.

Heart health

The numbers show that 73.5 million adults in the US, or 31.7% of the population, have high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol (8). People with high LDL cholesterol are two times more likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts with healthy cholesterol.  That being said, only 48.1% of them are receiving treatment to lower their LDL cholesterol and protect their heart.

When left unmanaged, high cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, including cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

Heart disease is a serious but preventable problem. Prevention and management of cardiovascular disease rely on a healthy lifestyle, primarily a well-balanced diet. Nuts are crucial for this purpose. You will be pleased to know that walnuts and almonds can help reduce risk factors of heart disease. 

Evidence shows that almonds can successfully reduce LDL cholesterol, known risk factors for coronary heart disease. Not only that, but almonds can help maintain HDL or good cholesterol and even increase it (9). 

Additionally, eating almonds can reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping blood vessels healthy. Almonds significantly elevate the number of antioxidants in the bloodstream, reduce blood pressure, and improve blood flow (10).

Walnuts’ mechanism of action is similar. 

Studies show that walnuts lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. At the same time, walnuts help improve endothelial function, decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, and elevate cholesterol efflux (11). Cholesterol efflux is a pathway transferring intracellular cholesterol from macrophages to other cells. 

A study from the Journal of Nutrition found that walnuts promote gut health, and this effect could be the reason behind its positive influence on the heart (12). More precisely, eating walnuts daily as a part of a healthy diet is associated with increases in certain gut bacteria, which improve some risk factors for heart disease.

Moreover, walnuts are abundant in ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, which can dilate blood vessels to reduce blood pressure (13). Also, ALA can exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. Active compounds in walnuts, called ellagitannins, have the potential to lower inflammation alongside both LDL and total cholesterol (14). 

VERDICT: Almonds and walnuts alike can address several risk factors for heart disease. Their mechanism of action is similar.

Brain health

The brain works hard to regulate everything we do and how we feel. Although remarkable and strong, the brain is susceptible to various problems. Whether you want to enhance brain function or prevent health conditions that affect it, walnuts are the best choice. 

If you’ve ever taken a look at walnuts, then you noticed they look like brains. Just like our brain is nestled in a protective skull, so is the walnut surrounded by a strong shell.

Walnuts are abundant in ALA and linoleic acid, which has the potential to boost brain health and function, even as you age. Eating walnut can improve cognitive skills such as processing speed, cognitive flexibility, memory, and global cognitive function. Walnuts promote brain health by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation while maintaining neural membrane integrity (15).

Although walnut is king when it comes to the brain, almonds are beneficial too. Evidence shows that almonds increase brain acetylcholine levels and enhance memory function while attenuating memory deficit (16). Acetylcholine is the chief neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system, and it supports and regulates both long-term and working memory.

VERDICT: Walnuts are superior for brain health, but almonds can be beneficial too.

Weight loss 

Snacks are the worst enemy of every person who wants to lose weight. While you want to slim down, sometimes it’s difficult to resist the urge to snack something. The biggest problem here is that most snacks are unhealthy. Almonds and walnuts can support weight loss, and both pose as great options for healthy snacks.

In one study, a low-calorie diet with 3oz of almonds increased weight loss by 62% compared to a diet enriched with complex carbs (17). A different study found that women who consumed almonds lost more weight than their counterparts who didn’t. They also had improvements in weight circumference (18).

What makes almonds good for weight loss? They are abundant in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, all of which promote a feeling of fullness. By suppressing the appetite, almonds help you eat less and avoid overeating, cravings, and other unhealthy habits that lead to weight gain. The body can’t absorb all their calories, which is yet another plus for weight loss potential of almonds.

The body doesn’t absorb all calories from walnuts, either. Walnuts can promote weight loss too. In one study, subjects who drank smoothie made with 1.75oz of walnuts once a day for five days decreased appetite and hunger (19).

VERDICT: Although evidence suggests walnuts can support weight loss, almonds are the winners in this category. 

Blood sugar control

Blood sugar control is a key aspect of good health and wellbeing, even though we often don’t think about it. Management of blood sugar reduces the risk of diabetes or promotes its management if you are already diagnosed with this condition. You also need to maintain blood sugar levels in a healthy range to protect your weight and prevent other complications that come with high glucose.

Evidence shows that the prevalence of diabetes is lower among people who eat walnuts regularly (20). Don’t be fooled by their fat content and calories. Consumption of walnuts doesn’t cause significant changes in fasting blood sugar levels.

Almonds reign supreme in this category, though. They may reduce the rise in blood glucose and insulin levels after meals (21). One study found that consumption of 2oz of almonds is associated with lower levels of fasting insulin and fasting glucose. Scientists confirmed that the inclusion of almonds into the diet has beneficial effects on adiposity, glycemic control, and lipid profile (22). 

In people with prediabetes, almonds may help promote insulin sensitivity (23).

Mechanisms of action through which almonds support blood sugar control are worth exploring. Their protein, fat, and fiber content could improve blood glucose levels by slowing stomach emptying and lowering the glycemic index of a meal. Why is this important? The glycemic index is a rate at which food increased blood sugar levels. By lowering GI, almonds can help prevent spikes in blood glucose and thereby aid the management of diabetes. 

VERDICT: Almonds are a better option for blood sugar control than walnuts. They can prevent huge spikes of blood sugar after meals. Walnuts can be beneficial for blood glucose management, too. 

Conclusion

Almonds and walnuts are widely praised for their health benefits. Rightfully so! Their popularity isn’t baseless. Instead, it lies in a growing body of evidence that confirms their benefits. As seen throughout this post, their nutritional profiles are similar. While almonds are more abundant in minerals, walnuts are the best source of ALA. When it comes to specific health benefits, walnuts are better for brain health while almonds for blood sugar control. All in all, walnuts and almonds could be great additions to your diet. There is no clear winner here because each has some benefits that other nut doesn’t. 

References 

  1. https://learnaboutag.org/resources/fact/almonds.pdf
  2. https://www.britannica.com/plant/walnut-tree-and-nut
  3. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-top-walnut-producing-countries-in-the-world.html
  4. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/784363/nutrients
  5. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/784410/nutrients
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30199393/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350958/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459188/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5946253/#:~:text=Almonds%20have%20been%20shown%20to%20reduce%20LDL%2DC%2C%20which%20is,even%20increase%20HDL%2DC%20levels.
  10. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/10715762.2014.896458
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24500935/
  12. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/150/4/806/5680186
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17898500/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26713565/
  15. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/4/561S/4571638#163805706
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26548495/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14574348/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25097630/
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28715141/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6220814/
  21. https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/almonds#potential-benefits
  22. https://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(10)00128-9/fulltext
  23. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46220489_Almond_Consumption_and_Cardiovascular_Risk_Factors_in_Adults_with_Prediabetes

 

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