Go Nuts! Munch On for Wholesome Goodness
There must be solid reasons for health practitioners and nutritionists to emphasise on the goodness of nuts even though they are notoriously high in fat. The reason is simple. Nuts have the potential to promote great health among those who consume them regularly.
Unfortunately, many adults and growing-up children are not encouraged to include nuts as part of their everyday diet – no thanks to parts played by mainstream media to hype on low fat diet the last few decades which has entered our psych to avoid these nutrient-packed power food altogether for their high fat, high cholesterol and high calories content. Nuts would not have been featured in the Food Guide Pyramid as a source of protein alongside meat, fish and poultry without a good reason. Although low fat-high protein diet has its merits, a low carbohydrate food like nuts should be made an integral part of your diet – as long as they are the raw and unsalted variety.
Making A Comeback
Nuts are becoming a hot topic once again as their goodness is too great to be ignored as more and more clinical studies are discovering that nuts can lower LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ one) level when substituted for food high in saturated fat and eaten as part of a low fat, low cholesterol diet. Nuts contain unique combination of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, along with a wide variety of vitamins like folic acid, niacin, and vitamins E and B-6, and minerals like magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, phosphorous and potassium. The key to include nuts in the diet without adding extra fat and calories is portion control. As little as one handful – or 1.5 ounces – of nuts per day can provide nutritional beneﬁts and minerals which can fit perfectly into a healthy diet that is calorie balanced for weight maintenance.
All Fats Are Not The Same
One of the biggest confusions is that nuts are high in fat and cholesterol. But remember much of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, the same kind of fat found in olive oil and canola oil. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, sometimes called ‘good’ fats, help the body lower cholesterol when they replace saturated fat in the diet.
The fat in nuts are of the essential fatty acids kind which helps to maintain skin and carries many fat-soluble vitamins e.g. A, D, E, and K. The fat content of nuts varies from nut to nut however.
Good For The Heart
A few studies, including the Loma Linda University in California that involved 31,000 Seventh Day Adventists found that eating nuts lowered the risk of heart disease and helped participants to keep their weight down. Other studies like the Physician’s Health Study and the Iowa Women’s Heath Study ascertained the benefits. A landmark Harvard study, reported in the September 2006 issue of Longevity, also found that women who ate at least 142g of nuts a week, were 35% less likely to have a heart attack than those who ate less than 28g a month.
So convincing were nuts’ health benefits to the heart that it compelled the FDA to approve the following health claim for nut package labels:
“Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of some nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Lowers Diabetes Risk
Research also suggests that nuts may lower diabetes risk according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, where women who ate nuts at least five times a week had a 30% reduction in diabetes risk over women who never ate nuts although the researchers cannot fully point out whether the fibre, magnesium, healthy fat, or phytochemicals in the nuts were responsible for lowering the risk.
News For Men Too
Nuts are not only good for the heart but also to the part of the anatomy men can rejoice. The amino acid arginine present in nuts can help overcome erectile dysfunction. Arginine has also been found to boost immunity and lower elevated blood pressure levels.
It’s Time To Go Nuts!
It only takes a small handful of nuts to satisfy hunger (and help you stay full longer), and there are many varieties to choose from too. Turn the page for the nine of the healthiest nuts you can start with.
Just a quarter cup of almonds contains nearly 25% of your needed daily value of the important nutrient magnesium. It is also rich in potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. In fact, a quarter cup of almonds has almost as much calcium as a quarter cup of milk. A study reported that a diet rich with vitamin E may help to promote healthy ageing and protect some from Alzheimer’s. Researchers have found almonds to reduce colon cancer, probably due to its high fibre content.
Cashews are lower in fat than most nuts, and 65% of this fat is unsaturated fatty acids. Of this, 90% is oleic acid, the heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. Cashews are rich in copper, magnesium, zinc, iron and biotin. The high iron content in cashews is needed to make haemoglobin – the red pigment in the blood.
Although often discussed with nuts, peanuts are a legume along with dry beans, peas and lentils. People who eat peanuts tend to take in more key nutrients critical to health like vitamin A, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and dietary fibre. Peanuts also provide unique bioactive components that act as antioxidants like arginine, an amino acid that is a precursor to nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and can decrease blood pressure. Resveratrol, also found in grapes and wine, improves longevity and performance, and reduces inflammation.
Peanuts also have significant levels of phytosterols – well known for their ability to reduce cholesterol and new research is showing that they are cancer-preventative. Flavonoids that reduce inflammation and inhibit platelets from sticking to arteries are also found in peanuts.
These nuts are extremely nutrient-rich and contain protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fibre, vitamin E and selenium. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that works to neutralise dangerous free radicals. A study at the University of Illinois even found that the high amounts of selenium in Brazil nuts may help prevent breast cancer.
Pecans are an excellent source of over 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, several B vitamins and zinc. Recent clinical research studies evaluating the impact of pecans on serum cholesterol have found pecans to significantly help lower blood cholesterol when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet. A study from New Mexico State University found that eating 3/4 cup of pecans a day may significantly lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and help to clear the arteries.
These nuts are high in protein, fibre, healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and magnesium. And, a study done at Hawaii University found that people who had added macadamia nuts to their diets for just one month had total cholesterol levels of 191, compared to 201 for those eating the typical American diet. The largest change was found in the LDL (bad) cholesterol. This nut is often recommended for low carb diet followers as an energy-providing snack or substitute for salty chips.
The pistachio nut is a member of the cashew family, and like most nuts, pistachios are cholesterol free. Pistachios are packed with nutrients. One-ounce serving of pistachios (about 45 nuts) contains over 10% of the daily requirements of dietary fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, and B vitamins. Pistachios are cholesterol-free and high in monounsaturated fat. The copper, magnesium, and B vitamins in pistachios can help strengthen the immune system and the high levels of magnesium can help control blood pressure.
When it comes to nuts, the walnut is the king. It’s a great source of the healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been found to protect the heart, promote better cognitive function, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. It also contains the antioxidant compound ellagic acid, which is known to fight cancer and support the immune system. But that’s not all, researchers have identified 16 polyphenols in walnuts, including three new tannins, with antioxidant activity so powerful they described it as ‘remarkable.’ Walnuts are incredibly healthy for the heart as well.
Hazelnuts are an excellent source of vitamin E, dietary fibre, magnesium, and heart healthy B vitamins. Recent research also shows that hazelnuts are one of the highest natural sources of antioxidants.
Hazelnuts are a rich source of nutrients that protect the health including vitamin E, folate, B vitamins and arginine (an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels). It has one the lowest percentages of saturated fat (along with almonds) and one of the best nut sources of heart healthy mono-and polyunsaturated fats.
The newly revised food guidance system, known as MyPyramid, specifically lists hazelnuts as one of the richest sources of vitamin E and the guidelines suggest choosing hazelnuts more often to help meet vitamin E recommendations. Hazelnuts are one of the highest natural sources of antioxidants among ‘superfoods’ and are one of the most antioxidant-rich nuts.
When Not to Go Nuts
Obviously it goes without saying that you should avoid nuts if you have an allergy to them. Some people may be allergic to tree nuts (all the nuts besides peanuts) and not peanuts, and vice versa, but some people may be allergic to both. Other dangers you should be wary about is consuming processed or flavoured nuts that are high in fat, sugar and sodium, and have added chemicals and preservatives.
Go Ahead and Go Nuts
The key to eating nuts is simply not to over indulge. As nuts are highly concentrated in both calories and nutrients, a small handful is sufficient and eating a broad range is the best as they each have specific health benefits. Mix and match and have fun enjoying these wholesome goodness.