Doctor’s Orders: You Should be Nuts About Nuts

Eating almonds, for instance, offers health benefits

A new study suggests that eating nuts pay health benefits.
A new study suggests that eating nuts pay health benefits. Flikr.

When is the last time you ate a handful of walnuts or pecans? How about peanuts, cashews, or hazelnuts? If it’s been awhile, you may want to go to the store soon to load up on them.

A recent study published in BMC Medicine found that eating at least 20 grams or approximately just a fourth of a cup each day is associated with a reduced risk of many disease conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality, and mortality from respiratory disease, diabetes, and infections.

A total of 29 studies were included in the meta-analysis in which researchers found individuals who had consumed a higher amount of nuts had reduced risk of various diseases. The study estimated that 4.4 million premature deaths in the America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Western Pacific may have been attributable to a nut intake below 20 grams each day in 2013.

Nuts are a nutritional standout ranking up there with fruits and vegetables. Once considered too high in fat and calories to be good for us, nuts have done a nutritional turnaround. Years of research has turned the once frowned upon indulgence into a nutritional powerhouse and are now encouraged to be added to our daily diet.

We now know the composition of fat in nuts is a good type of fat which is quite healthy for us. Nuts are rich in the healthy oils of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats along with omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts comes from plants therefore they contain no cholesterol; in addition they are free of trans fats and very low in saturated fat. Their healthy fat composition combined with fiber, phytosterols and flavonoids, all help lower blood cholesterol improving heart health.

Nuts’ high fat and calorie content have made people fearful of weight gain. A ½ cup of pistachios contains 160 calories while a ¼ cup of walnuts or almonds each contain 180 calories. However, no need to abstain as nuts’ high protein and fiber content counteract making us feel full and studies have shown eating nuts can actually be associated with a reduced risk of weight gain. A medium-sized handful a day is the perfect portion to eat.

Nuts to Choose from

The variety of nuts is outstanding–you’re bound to find one you like. Also outstanding is the superior nutritional composition of each type of nut. Listed are some of the nutritional benefits each has to offer:

Almonds A top food source of vitamin E, curbs cravings, rich in magnesium, 6 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber per serving and has prebiotic potential.

Brazil Nuts – Coming from a tree that grows in the Amazon, Brazil nuts are exceptionally high in selenium, and provide a very good source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium and manganese.

Cashews – Sweet yet crunchy, cashews contain a lower fat content than most other nuts, are rich in soluble fiber and provide zea-xanthin an antioxidant to help prevent age-related macular degeneration in the eyes.

Hazelnuts – Also known as filberts, they rank #1 among tree nuts in the B vitamin folate helping to reduce neural tube birth defects. They are abundant in copper needed for iron absorption and manganese necessary for bone formation.

Macadamia nuts – Their sweet taste provides the most fat and calories of all nuts but they are packed with health-benefitting nutrients. They contain excellent sources of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

Pecans – Rich in vitamin E which provide protection against cell damage helping to fight Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and heart disease. Pecans are considered to contain the highest antioxidant content among all nuts.

Peanuts – Botanically, peanuts are a legume packed with all kinds of good nutrients. They are an excellent source of niacin necessary to convert food to energy and manganese, important for processing cholesterol. Peanuts have more protein than any other nut at 7 grams per ounce.

Pine nuts – These are the small, edible seeds of a female cone of a pine tree, with a crunchy yet buttery texture. They provide a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids helping lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol in the blood.

Pistachios – A one-ounce serving has as much potassium – 290 mg – as half of a large banana and 3 grams of fiber. They also contain 6 grams of protein and as much fiber – 2.9 grams – as a ½ cup of broccoli.

Walnuts – This is the only nut containing the highest amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid at 2.5 grams in a one-ounce serving. They also provide 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber helping you to feel full and promote healthy bowel function.

Adding nuts to your daily diet

The neat thing about nuts is they are the ultimate “fast food.”   There is little to no preparation involved and are easy to take with you wherever you go. Note they can go rancid due to their high fat content so store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. They also can be stored in the freezer if you don’t plan on using them for several weeks.

Here are some ideas for adding nuts to your daily diet:

  • Top salads with nuts instead of croutons or cheese
  • Add to Greek yogurt with fresh berries
  • Mix into a homemade trail mix or granola
  • Add to baked goods such as muffins or quick breads
  • Add to stir-fry vegetables
  • Add to oatmeal with fresh berries
  • Eat a small handful of nuts each day
Doctor’s Orders: You Should be Nuts About Nuts