Walnuts are a smart food to eat, and it’s not just because the nuts look like tiny brains. It’s because they’re bursting with nutrients that promote overall health. The benefits of walnuts have been studied and studied, and the results all point to the same conclusion: unless you're allergic to them, walnuts are a brilliant addition to your diet!

Walnuts combine the benefits of monounsaturated fats including omega-3 fatty acids necessary for heart health and for reducing inflammation, with a hefty dose of vitamins like vitamin E and several B vitamins. Walnuts are rich in other phytonutrients known to help combat cancers and neurological diseases, which means walnuts can help to keep you spry and sharp into old age.

And you don’t have to pound the walnuts either — just a small handful, say four walnuts a day, gives you all the health benefits. You can add a drizzle of walnut oil to your salads or use walnut flour in baking. But the best way to get all the nutritional benefits is to go for the whole nut. Here are recipes that call for walnuts in their whole form as an ingredient, adding a beneficial boost to salads or some extra nutty goodness to cookies. And you can even add them to pizza. We tried it, and loved it!

salad with walnuts and beets

Photo: /Shutterstock

Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad

This salad has an excellent mix of textures and flavors. Topping the earthy roasted beets and savory leeks is a dressing that features garlic, chili, and tamarind water among other ingredients for a vibrant dash of flavor. And of course there's the crunchy sprinkle of walnuts to complete the dish.

Cranberry Walnut Quinoa Salad

A perfect meal for autumn and winter is this lovely salad that features multiple foods that boast outstanding health benefits. If you want medicine on a plate (that tastes amazing), this is a great option. It is also simple to make, and stores well so you can enjoy it as a lunch or dinner several times during the week.

Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad

For a more savory and classic salad option, the combination of sweet pear, tangy blue cheese and delicately nutty walnuts is a reliable favorite. This recipe also features a honey mustard balsamic vinaigrette dressing that is deeeelish.

Blue cheese, pear and walnut pizza

Photo: Enrique Gili

Blue Cheese, Pear and Walnut Pizza

If you like the pear, blue cheese and walnut salad linked above, then odds are you're going to love this pizza. It is basically just that salad only on pizza crust instead of lettuce. Or you could have the best of both by enjoying a slice of this with a side of the salad! Minimal ingredients, maximum yumminess.

Basil Walnut Pesto

You don't have to stick with pine nuts for pesto. Walnuts make an amazing pesto as well since they have such a mellow flavor. And you get even more satisfaction since you know you're enjoying all those health benefits from walnuts when you add this pesto to salads, sandwiches, pizzas, crackers and more.

Candied Walnuts

Now we're moving from savory to sweet. These candied walnuts are not only a delightful snack for yourself, but they're also great to make as gifts during the holidays or for a party. You need only a couple ingredients, a little time in the oven and presto! Dessert.

coffee walnut cookies

Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch

Coffee Walnut Cookies

A sweet treat for your coffee break isn't complete without these crumbly, nutty, delicately coffee-flavored cookies. They're not only perfect for afternoon coffee breaks or dessert, but they're also a great cookie to make up last-minute for parties since you can have the dough rolled in the fridge and ready to slice and bake at a moment's notice.

Pumpkin-Walnut Gingerbread with Spiced Buttercream Frosting

Cookies and brownies are of course perfect for adding walnuts but let's not neglect the sweet breads. Pretty much any sweet bread from banana to zucchini benefits from adding in nuts and this pumpkin gingerbread is no different. Said the sweet bread to the walnut, "You complete me."

Walnut Scones with Maple Glaze

How could we end this recipe roundup without a head nod to weekend breakfasts and brunches? These walnut scones are vegan, and are dense but moist, making them a perfect partner for a mid-morning cuppa with the paper (or, tablet, as the case may be these days). A little drizzle of maple glaze lends a bit of an autumn or winter comfort mood to them as well.

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.