Eating a handful of nuts is a part of my healthy diet everyday. Nuts, which contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients are a great snack food, too. Though some nuts like almonds, pistachios, macadamia and pecan are expensive in our country, I do not mind spending a little more on these healthy snacks. Nuts are way healthier than chips, candies and fries.
The type of nut you eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, you name it – almost every type of nut has loads of nutrition packed into a tiny package.
My kids have been trained to eat nuts everyday. I pack a handful of roast almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts or broad beans into my children’s lunch boxes almost daily. They add nuts into yoghurt, cereals or eat them as they are. In the early days, nuts were not my children’s kind of snacks. I keep telling them that nuts are healthy and since they do not drink dairy milk, nuts are an excellent alternative source of calcium for the health of their bones and teeth.
In our kitchen larder, hardly do our children see chips or crackers. Instead, the larder is always well stocked with an assortment of nuts, organic brown rice rings, organic seed and nut crackers and the occasional ‘healthy’ low-sodium multi-grain tortilla chips with zero MSG.
As you can see below, these are our comfort snacks to run to in between meals:
Eating Nuts Benefits Your Heart
People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease.
Eating nuts may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of your arteries.
In A Nutshell, Why Are Nuts Healthy?
Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:
- Unsaturated fats. The “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol levels.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that may help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fiber. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. Fiber makes you feel full, so you eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
- Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
- L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.
What amount of nuts is considered healthy?
As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why you should eat nuts in moderation. Ideally, you should use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products.
Instead of eating unhealthy saturated fats, try substituting a handful of nuts or a tablespoon or two of a nut spread. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Select raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil.
Does it matter what kind of nuts you eat?
Possibly. Most nuts appear to be generally healthy, though some more so than others. Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy.
Keep in mind, you could end up canceling out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, flavors, MSG or salt!
Nuts Help You To Live Longer!
The largest study of its kind, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds that people who eat a handful of nuts every day live longer than those who do not eat them at all.
Scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health came to this conclusion after analyzing data on nearly 120,000 people collected over 30 years.
The analysis also showed that regular nut eaters tended to be slimmer than those who ate no nuts, putting to rest the notion that eating nuts leads to weight gain.
Previous studies have already shown links between eating nuts and lower risk for many diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, colon cancer and diverticulitis.
Eating lots of nuts has also been associated with lower cholesterol, reductions in inflammation, oxidative stress, body fat and insulin resistance.
Each nut variety contains its own unique combination of nutrients and is generally rich in a few nutrients such as:
- Almonds: protein, calcium and vitamin E
- Brazil nuts: fibre and selenium: just two brazil nuts a day provides 100% RDI for selenium for an adult
- Cashews: non haem (plant based) iron and a low GI rating
- Chestnuts: low GI, fibre and vitamin C (although much vitamin C is lost during cooking)
- Hazelnuts: fibre, potassium, folate, vitamin E
- Macadamias: highest in monounsaturated fats, thiamin and manganese
- Pecans: fibre and antioxidants
- Pine nuts: vitamin E and the arginine amino acid
- Pistachios: protein, potassium, plant sterols and the antioxidant resveratrol
- Walnuts: alpha linoleic acid: plant omega 3 and antioxidants
A healthy daily intake of nuts is 30g (a small handful) or approximately:
- 20 almonds
- 15 cashews
- 20 hazelnuts
- 15 macadamias
- 15 pecans
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 30 pistachio kernels
- 9 walnut kernels
- a small handful of mixed nuts or about two of each of the ten nut varieties (except chestnut which isn’t eaten raw)
Should I avoid nuts if I Am Concerned About Gaining Weight?
A small handful of nuts (30–50g) each day is not associated with a weight gain, and may also help reduce the risk of obesity. The healthy fats in nuts can help you feel fuller, which helps to control appetite.
And since some fat is trapped in the fibrous structure of the nut, it passes through the body rather than being digested.
Nuts can be part of a healthy diet to maintain or even lose weight, as long as your overall calorie intake does not increase. Eating a handful of nuts is an excellent substitute for less healthy foods such as deep fried foods, biscuits, cakes, chips, chocolate and so on. And don’t forget that apart from incorporating nuts in your diet, you must also include exercise in your daily regimen. And don’t forget to eat everything in moderation!