The Nutty Truth
Nuts? No thanks, many regretfully say while clearly tempted.
Nuts, after all, get more than half of their calories from fat and are notoriously known for being high in fat. Nuts have a greater ratio of fat calories than whole milk, ground beef, and even cheese have.
Nutritionists have warned in the past that nuts are a dangerous food item; nuts not only will cause one to gain weight but they will also increase one's risk for heart disease.
Well, nut lovers, take heart. The bad reputation nuts have unjustly earned is more than just unfair, it's downright malicious.
First, for those who do not know, it might make sense to explain what nuts exactly are. Nuts are classically defined to be in the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts food group in the food pyramid. However, this is slightly controversial. The term “nut” can mean many different things as nuts do come from different families. Nuts are classified into two main families: tree nuts, which are one-seeded fruits in hard shells, or peanuts, which are actually a member of the legume family.
Nuts are indeed high in calories and fat, but they contain high levels of healthy fats that are known to have heart-protective benefits, and are also dense with plenty of nutrients. Nuts contain the essential fatty acids, including omega-3. This fatty acid has been proven to decrease the growth of plaque in the arteries, reduce swelling in the human body, and even reduce blood pressure levels1. Linoleic and linolenic acids are necessary for the immune system (blood clotting), human growth, blood pressure control, and healthy skin and hair. Want all the info? Learn at SideEffectsOfXarelto.org. In addition, the fats in nuts contain unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats. This type of fat does not raise blood cholesterol levels as saturated fats do, but instead raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. All nuts are also rich in fiber, which plays a role in lowering cholesterol and interestingly makes the consumer feel full, so the person will not each much later2.
The Nurses Health Study, which included over 86,000 participants, demonstrates how nuts promote heart health: “The participants in this study who ate nuts at least five times a week were found to have a 35 per cent lower risk of heart disease compared with those who rarely ate nuts or avoided them”3. This conclusion is yet again reinforced in the 2006 Harvard study, where it was “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”1. Also, clinical trials have demonstrated and proven the effectiveness of nuts to lower blood cholesterol levels by 10-15 percent. The most recent study at Loma Linda University, found that “a diet in which 20% of the calories came from walnuts (3 oz a day) produced a 16% decrease in LDL cholesterol levels after 4 weeks compared with a similar diet not containing the nuts”4.
Nuts also contain a number of important vitamins and minerals, including natural sources of vitamin E, manganese, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-1 (thiamin), vitamin B-2 (riboflavin), protein, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and folate. Many of these nutrients are powerful antioxidants, protect the cell membrane, are catalysts or cofactors, breakdown amino acids, build bones, make proteins, convert sugar into energy, and help maintain a strong immune system5.
Sadly, Americans do not take advantage of the countless benefits found in nuts, simply because of their fear of the high fat content and the pressures in society today to follow a low-fat diet. In a recent study, it was found that “Americans consume less than one ounce of nuts per day. Nuts account for only 2.5 percent of the total fat intake in the U.S. Mediterranean countries consume about twice the level of nuts consumed by Americans”4.
But now that the public is aware, they should use nuts to their advantage. One may ask how? Well, eating a broad range of nuts is best as they each have their own specific health benefits. However, there are some nuts in particular to pay attention to. Almonds are an especially good source of protein, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Walnuts are especially high in the essential omega-3 fatty acid that has numerous health benefits. Pecans contain over 19 vitamins and minerals. Cashews contain the lowest percentage of fats (fewer calories) and provide high levels of magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and biotin. Brazil nuts are said to play a role in preventing breast cancer because of the high amounts of selenium, an antioxidant. Other nuts include pistachios for iron, protein, fiber, and magnesium and hazelnuts for being one of the richest sources of vitamin E5.
In conclusion, instead of eating unhealthy snacks like chips or candy, try substituting a handful of nuts. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease”2. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet; it is necessary to try to cut back on dairy and meat products that contain saturated fat as well, because they won't do your heart any good. In other words, a handful of nuts is a terrific substitute for less nutritious snacks. And thanks to the latest research, you can enjoy nuts without any regret.
Photo credit: http://www.amnut.com/mixed-nuts.html
- "The Health Benefits of Nuts" A 2 Z of Health and Beauty. Web. 09 Jan. 2010. . [↩]
- "Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health” Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living - MayoClinic.com. Web. 09 Jan. 2010. . [↩]
- "The Snack That Can Benefit Your Health" Natural Health News | Expert Advice & Tips | The Healthier Life. Web. 09 Jan. 2010. . [↩]
- "Nuts Health Benefits" Vegetarian Nutrition. Web. 09 Jan. 2010. . [↩]
- " Food Facts & Health Tips” NutsOnline | Premium Bulk & Wholesale Nuts, Dried Fruits & Gift Baskets. Web. 09 Jan. 2010. . [↩]