They're small, they're tasty - and they might be able to play a part in keeping cardiovascular diseases at bay, it seems.

Yes, walnuts are more than just a crunchy treat, some research from towards the end of last year might suggest.

The California Walnut Commission reported that research had looked at how alpha-linolenic acid provided protection when it came to cardiovascular diseases.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants and, you guessed it, walnuts contain this substance.

The recent research showed that overall exposure to ALA was linked to a lower chance of getting cardiovascular disease.

Analysing 27 different studies, it was found that for every gram of ALA that was consumed per day the chances of dying from coronary heart disease went down by ten per cent.

It follows earlier research showing consuming ALA might bring down cholesterol levels.

"Research is showing that the effects of ALA may have unique and independent benefits important to our wellbeing," commented  Pennsylvania State University's distinguished professor of nutrition, Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D.

"Eating a handful of walnuts, for example, is a great way to boost your ALA intake," she added.

As well as this substance, walnuts are high in antioxidants and contain a variety of micronutrients which Dr Kris-Etherton suggests may work in conjunction with each other.

Meanwhile, Dr James Beckerman suggested that people should consume more foods that contain a lot of ALA as part of their diet as a way of promoting the health of their hearts and possibly bringing down the chances they will die from a cardiac event.

"Given that plant sources of ALA are cheaper and more accessible to many people as compared to omega-3 fatty acids from fish, this study expands our arsenal to fight heart disease with safe and well tolerated dietary interventions that are easy for people to incorporate into their lifestyles," he said.

The meta analysis appeared as part of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the studies it looked at covered some 251,049 people.

Besides walnuts, another substance that famously contains Alpha Linolenic Acid is flax seed oil.