Unmissable on the table in the autumn / winter period, ubiquitous at the end of every Christmas lunch but now available all year round, nuts are a food that lovers of dried fruit can hardly resist.
The edible part of these fruits constitutes the seed of a plant belonging to the Juglans genus. The most common variety is Juglans regia , whose name means "Jupiter's acorn"; the term probably symbolizes the link of this with the father of all the gods, Jupiter, due to the majesty of the tree and the high nutritional power of the fruit. It is grown throughout Europe, the Middle East and California.
A bit of history
Originally from Asia Minor , the walnut was later introduced to Europe by the Persian kings. Pliny the Elder testifies in his book "Naturalia Historia" that walnuts were imported by the Greeks since the fifth century BC and that they considered it a prophetic tree, so much so that they placed statues relating to the plant and sometimes the plant itself at the entrance to their temples. .
The most characteristic property of walnuts is that of being a very energetic food (100g of walnuts provide about 600 calories), therefore excellent for recharging in a healthy and light way; this, combined with the high presence of the amino acid arginine, makes them an ideal food for athletes as they dilate the blood vessels, which by bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles improve physical performance .
From the food point of view they are also known for being rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and mineral salts , such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper and iron; they are among the foods of plant origin richest in zinc and this makes them excellent allies to strengthen the immune system and to keep skin, nails and hair healthy. Moreover, thanks to these trace elements they represent an excellent defense in all those conditions that cause intellectual fatigue .
Omega 3 fatty acids, on the other hand, contribute to lowering LDL cholesterol , to the proper functioning of our body and to the fight against inflammation . They also protect the cardiovascular system, preventing problems such as atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.
They are also an important source of vitamins, among which vitamin B6 and vitamin E stand out in particular.
They prevent glycemic peaks, which makes them a suitable food also for diabetics and those suffering from glycemic fluctuations . In fact, walnuts contain molecules capable of stabilizing blood glucose levels.
- They are useful for those who need an additional supply of mineral salts, as they are rich in magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium
- They help support the immune system, thanks to the vitamins and mineral salts contained
- They keep the cardiovascular system in good health, thanks to the presence of arginine and Omega 3 (3 nuts a day are enough for an effective cardiotonic action)
- They strengthen skin, nails and hair, as they are rich in Omega 3, Vitamin E and Zinc
- They represent the right snack for athletes and for those who want to recharge in a healthy and light way
- They help restore a correct sleep / wake balance , as they contain melatonin
Walnut: between myth and legend
In Greek mythology the walnut was linked to the god Dionysus . In fact, it is said that Dionysius, a guest of the king of Laconia, fell in love with one of his three daughters, Caria. The girl reciprocated the love, but her two jealous sisters began to gossip about the god Dionysus who, furious, first drove them crazy and then killed them. For the pain Caria died and Dionisio, still in love, transformed her into a walnut tree that could produce fruitful fruit.
A curiosity: the Laconians had a temple built and at its entrance they placed statues carved in walnut wood depicting the three sisters, who were then called Caryatids, and this is the meaning of the word Caryatid
The walnut has always been, in the popular imagination, a tree linked to witches and evil spirits . In fact, during the Middle Ages it was believed that the sabbaths (the nocturnal encounters between witches and the Devil) took place right under a walnut tree; for this reason this plant has remained inextricably linked to superstitions and fantastic stories: it is even mentioned in many texts of witches' trials.
Nuts and Zinc
Present in the body in small quantities, zinc is a cofactor of numerous enzymes; it is in fact involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis processes and is essential for the functioning of hormones such as insulin, growth hormone and sex hormones. It is also essential for the growth and repair processes of tissues and for sexual development, and plays an important role in the regeneration processes of injured tissues.
Zinc is also an element with important immunomodulatory properties: it activates the production and maturation of T- helper and killer lymphocytes by the medulla and thymus.
The daily requirement for adult humans is about 10 mg and is mainly present in foods of animal origin. Among plant foods, nuts are among the 10 foods that contain a greater quantity of them and therefore represent an excellent source of this microelement.
However, it is good to remember that the human body is able to absorb only about 20-30% of the quantities of this mineral present in food, and that the zinc present in plants is poorly bioavailable (therefore subjects who follow a strictly vegetarian diet can manifest deficiencies of this mineral, which will need to be supplemented).
The consequences of a zinc deficiency include hair loss, diarrhea, slow wound healing, a decreased and delayed immune response and increased susceptibility to infections. In severe cases, zinc deficiency can lead to delays in sexual development and maturation, impotence, weight loss and impaired taste and smell.
Nutritional Biotherapy: Practical Application. D. Arcari Morini, A. D'Eugenio, F. Aufiero. Red Ediziojni, Milan, 2005.