Walnuts have long been praised for their health benefits, with the nut known to be rich in protein and several dietary minerals.
Now, researchers have found that a diet that includes walnuts may also contribute to longevity.
For a new study, scientists from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health reviewed 20 years of diet history and 30 years of physical and clinical measurements.
Accordingly, they found that participants who ate walnuts early on in life showed a greater likelihood of being more physically active, having a higher quality diet, and experiencing a better heart disease risk profile as they aged.
"Nut consumers showed an advantage in relation to diet quality, but walnut consumers appear to have a better heart disease risk factor profile than the other groups, even after accounting for overall diet quality," said Dr Lyn M. Steffen. "The surprising, healthy shifts in overall dietary pattern of walnut consumers suggests walnuts may act as a bridge or 'carrier food' for helping people form healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits throughout life."
The average intake of walnuts during the study was about three-quarters of an ounce (21 grams) per day, and the intake of nuts among other nut consumers was about one and a half ounces per day (42 grams).
Walnuts are the only tree nut that is an excellent source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, which is believed to play a role in heart health, brain health, and healthy ageing.
"Walnut eaters seem to have a unique body phenotype that carries with it other positive impacts on health like better diet quality, especially when they start eating walnuts from young into middle adulthood - as risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes elevates," she added.
Full results have been published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, & Cardiovascular Diseases.