Pangea Nutrition Blog

New Study: Walnuts May Activate Insula and Help Avoid Unhealthy food Cravings

Not only are walnuts high in fiber and “good” unsaturated fats, they also appear to activate the part of the brain that may regulate cravings and cognitive control.

In a recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, obese participants spent 5 days drinking daily smoothies with 48 grams of walnuts and another 5 days drinking daily smoothies with placebo. The participants were “blinded,” meaning they did not know which smoothies contained walnuts.

The study showed that people who drank the smoothies with walnuts reported feeling less hungry throughout the week.

Even more interesting, when shown pictures of highly desirable (but less healthy) foods like hamburgers and desserts, functional MRI imaging showed increased activity in the right insula of participants’ brains during the week they consumed the walnuts.

The right insula is likely associated with cognitive control and cravings. This increased activity after eating walnuts may help explain how walnuts promote healthier eating habits by controlling cravings.

“This is a powerful measure,” said Christos Mantzoros, MD, DSc, PhD hc mult, director of the Human Nutrition Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We know there’s no ambiguity in terms of study results. When participants eat walnuts, this part of their brain lights up, and we know that’s connected with what they are telling us about feeling less hungry or more full.” 

More studies are needed, but here’s another great reason to eat walnuts each week. Cheers to your health!

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Posted by Jason Paruthi, MD