Can diabetics eat walnuts? Yes, diabetics can eat walnuts, both regular English walnuts and black walnuts but in limited amounts, as part of an overall clean, balanced and varied diet, suited to the nutritional requirements of their condition. The ideal amount may vary from one diabetic to another depending on their current health status, notably weigh, blood pressure and blood cholesterol profile. In general, intake is best limited to a few walnuts a day, preferably not everyday, but a trained medical professional or dietitian with experience in diabetic diets is the most qualified to determine your intake.
Walnuts are good for diabetes for several reasons, including the fact that they are a moderate source of carbohydrates, but low in sugar and high in fiber. Walnuts are also good sources of protein and quite high in fat. Both protein and fat help temper the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping stabilize blood sugar levels. But because of the high fat content which also makes them high in calories, walnuts can only be eaten in limited amounts in a diabetic diet. High-fat, high-calorie foods promote weight gain if eaten in excess and weight gain is bad for diabetes, hence the need to limit intake of nuts in a diabetic diet.
Diabetes and walnuts nutritional profile:
1) Moderately low carbohydrate content. There are 13.71 g of total carbohydrates in 100 g of walnuts. 6.7 g of these carbs are made up of fiber, indigestible plant material, while 2.61 g are simple sugars. So basically 100 g of walnuts has 4.4 g of net carbohydrates (net meaning they are not fiber, nor simple sugars). These carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream for energy, contributing to blood sugar numbers. Overall, walnuts are a good food for diabetes in small amounts because of their moderately low carbohydrates content which benefits a diabetic diet.
2) Low sugar content. 100 g of walnuts has 2.61 g of simple sugars, meaning they are as simple as they come and are a rapid source of energy because they are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Compared to figs (16.26 g of sugar/100 g of fruit), cherries (12.82 g of sugar/100 g), bananas (12.23 g of sugar/100 g), pineapple (10 g of sugar/100 g) or watermelon (6.2 g of sugar/100 g), walnuts are actually low in sugar and a good option to consider for diabetes. See Can You Eat Watermelon With Diabetes?
3) Great fiber content. With 6.7 g of fiber per 100 g, walnuts are a healthy food. Dietary fiber is indigestible plant material, meaning it does not contribute in any way to our actual nutrition. Because we can’t digest it, none of it gets absorbed so it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. This is one of the main reasons why a healthy fiber intake is recommended in a diabetic diet. Even more, the dietary fiber in walnuts binds to certain nutrients such as fats and reduces their absorption rate as well as regulates digestion and relieves constipation, further contributing to benefits for diabetes, notably weight loss and weight control.
4) Low glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index is a scale measuring how fast the carbohydrates and sugars in a food are absorbed into the bloodstream. The glycemic index basically measures how fast or slow a food raises blood sugar levels. Between 0-55 is a low GI. From 55-69 is a moderate GI. From 70-100 is a high GI.
Studies put the glycemic index of walnuts below 20, which is low. This is because they have a moderate total carbohydrate content with a low net carbohydrate content, low sugar and high fiber content. And it means that occasionally eating a few walnuts is good for you if you have diabetes because it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels too fast too quickly. Even more, they help temper the absorption of carbs and sugar from other foods which is why some dietitians recommend having a few walnuts with a small serving of fruit or in a vegetable salad, for example.
However, avoid glazed walnuts with diabetes because they have added sugars which up their sugar content and raise their glycemic index. Even if it says it’s honey instead of sugar of sugar syrups, it’s still not good for diabetes. See Can You Eat Honey With Diabetes?
Glazed walnuts have up to 32.14 g of sugar per 100 g and the total carbohydrate content is around 35.71 g. Actually, a 1 oz serving (28.35 g) has 9 g of simple sugars and 13.33 g of total carbohydrates. This much added sugar, or honey, makes glazed walnuts a high GI food and bad for diabetes.
5) Great protein content. What makes walnuts good for diabetes in small amounts is their protein content: 15.23 g of protein per 100 g of nuts. 7 walnuts amounting to 1 oz (28.35 g) provide 6.82 g of protein, but only 3.89 g of total carbohydrates, of which 1.9 g is indigestible fiber and only 0.31 g sugar. And the reason protein is good in a diabetic patient’s diet is because it’s more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and slows down digestion, which also slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and prevents blood sugar spikes.
6) Source of fat: 65.21 g of fat per 100 g and 18.49 g of fat in a 1 oz serving (28.35 g). While it’s not really good for diabetes that walnuts are high in fat, you only eat small amounts occasionally. The fact that they contain fat helps as fat slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and contributes to better blood sugar control. Furthermore, a lot of this fat is good fat and comes with benefits for the brain, eyesight, skin and more. The important thing is not to eat too much and preferably not eat walnuts every day. And absolutely avoid roasted or fried nuts.
Of total fat 14% is ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), the plant form of Omega 3, 58% is linoleic acid (Omega 6 fatty acids) and over 10% is oleic acid (Omega 9). The rest is saturated fat.
7) Highly nutritious. We all know nuts and seeds are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat and walnuts make no exception. What recommends them for consumption, albeit in very limited amounts, is their high vitamin and especially mineral profile, which is good for diabetes and for health in general.
(Vitamin B1) 0.341 mg/100 g, about 30% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for an average adult
(Vitamin B6) 0.537 mg/100 g, about 40% of the RDI
(Vitamin B9, folate) 92 micrograms (mcg)/100 g, about 25% of the RDI
(Iron) 2.91 mcg/100 g, about 22% of RDI
(Magnesium) 158 mg/100 g, about 45% of RDI
(Manganese) 3.414 mg/100 g, about 160% of RDI
(Phosphorus) 346 mg/100 g, about 50% of RDI
(Zinc) 3.09 mg/100 g, about 33% of RDI
Even as little as 1 oz, 28.35 g or the equivalent of 7 kernels or 14 halves of walnuts provides 10% of an adult’s daily vitamin B1 intake, 13% vitamin B6, 8% folate (vitamin B9), close to 7% iron, almost 15% magnesium, about 50% manganese, 16% phosphorus and 10% zinc.
The benefits of walnuts for diabetes occur only when intake is low and include:
1) Steady blood sugar levels and possibly better insulin sensitivity as a result of moderate carbs, low sugar and high fiber content as well as low glycemic index.
2) Weight management and small benefits for weight loss thanks to fiber, protein which provides satiation and curbs hunger and fat which stops cravings.
3) Better blood pressure profile from magnesium and Omega 3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
4) Improved immunity and possible benefits for skin as a result of zinc.
5) Energy and vitality thanks to iron, but also magnesium and B vitamins.
6) Minor benefits for blood cholesterol profile as a result of healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids content.
7) Benefits for nervous system thanks to B vitamins, especially when it comes to nerve damage, a common complication of diabetes type 2 and type 1.
8) Benefits for skin from fats, B vitamins and zinc, including faster wound healing and reduced risks of infection.
The dangers of eating walnuts for diabetes may only occur if you eat too much, too often. The side effects are usually more long-term and include weight gain which causes complications specific to diabetes, such as high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and profile, nerve damage, eye damage, kidney damage and skin ulcers with poor healing.
How much walnuts can you eat with diabetes? The recommended amount of walnuts you can eat when you have diabetes is estimated at a few ounces a week. An ounce is about 28.35 g which usually means about 7 kernels or 14 walnut halves per ounce. An ounce may constitute a serving, but not everyone may eat this much at once. Some diabetic patients may benefit more from spreading their intake over the course of a day. For example, eating 3-4 kernels now and 3-4 later in the day. Similarly, most diabetes diets allow around 2-3 servings no larger than 1 ounce per serving (28.35 g) a week. It’s also better if you don’t eat walnuts every day and certainly no more than 1 small serving a day. And only raw, unprocessed nuts are allowed, so avoid roasted, salted or glazed walnuts.
Depending on the specifics of your condition, different recommendations may apply. Being overweight, suffering from obesity, having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, existing cardiovascular problems or other health issues and their severity are all factors that will determine your intake of certain foods. The best thing to do is see a doctor or a dietitian with experience in diabetes nutrition for a personalized eating plan, suited to your individual nutritional requirements. Also remember to count your carbohydrate and sugar intake as well as limit your fat and calorie intake to reasonable values to obtain good nutrition, enjoy benefits and prevent complications of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.