"If you're tired of counting sheep at night, maybe a pre-bedtime snack of walnuts would help you get some shuteye."

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[Flickr: Ioan Sameli]

Is there a connection between how a food looks and what it does for your body? I keep thinking about all of those "male enhancement" remedies made from phallic-looking foods (and in some cases, actual animal phalluses). Science has pretty much come down and said those things just don't work. But in the case of the old adage of walnuts being brain food, well, whoever came up with that just may have been onto something.

It's really kind of zany how much a walnut half looks like a brain (albeit a nutty, crunchy, delicious brain!). The human brain is made up of about 60% of what is called "structural fat" and needs high-quality fats like omega-3s to function properly by keeping the brain fluid and flexible. Walnuts are loaded with omega-3s, which make them the ultimate "brain food."

Some studies have linked low consumption of omega-3s to depression and decreased cognitive function. So making walnuts part of your diet (in moderation, of course) could be a good way boost your spirits as well as your IQ.

We all need sleep to stay sane. Did you know that walnuts also seem to triple melatonin levels in the body? Melatonin is one of the body's sleep regulating hormones, so if you're tired of counting sheep at night, maybe a pre-bedtime snack of walnuts would help you get some shuteye.

Walnuts also contain manganese, copper, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium—all nutrients which are important to good health, and walnuts, like most nuts, can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health when eaten as part of a balanced diet.

Most of the walnuts we consume in our diets are in sweets or baked goods. I recently made a delicious, simple pesto sauce for pasta using walnuts and mix of green herbs (I forgot to buy the pine nuts and the supermarket was low on basil). It's a delicious way to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of walnuts in a savory dish.

Do you eat any foods for a specific health remedy, or do you have any especially interesting ways to cook or bake with walnuts?

About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.

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