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Sunday, September 15, 2013

How healthy are nuts?



In my nutrition classes I give students some easy ways to make their everyday diets healthier.  One way is to eat a handful of nuts everyday.  What are the health benefits of eating a handful of nuts every day?   What kind of nuts are the healthiest?

According to an article in the Wellness Newsletter, (October 2013) nuts have numerous health benefits.

  Nuts add fiber to your diet.   Many Americans eat diets too low in fiber.  Adding a handful of nuts is an easy way to add some fiber to your diet. 

Unsaturated fats – nuts do provide fat, but heart healthy fats.  In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports in the article, Nuts and your heart:  Eating nuts for heart health, that walnuts, almonds and other nuts can help you lower your cholesterol.  They promote nuts as a great snack food and one that is easy to take with you to work or school  Not just one type of nut promotes heart health, but the Mayo Clinic article states, “Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts – you name it – almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition packed into a tiny package.”  So how does eating nuts help your heart?
a.       Nuts help lower your LDL cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol that is a cause of heart disease
b.      Nuts help reduce your risk of blood clots, the ones that can cause a fatal heart attack
c.       Nuts contain fiber (see above) which helps lower your cholesterol level
d.      Vitamin E – nuts are a good source of vitamin E which may help prevent the formation of plaques in your arteries.
Type 2 diabetes – not only does eating nuts help lower your risk of heart disease, studies have shown eating nuts may lower one’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

But what about all the calories in nuts?  I was talking to a relative recently who was overweight and said they couldn’t possibly eat nuts, as nuts were fattening and high in calories.  Yes, it is true that nuts provide about 160 to 200 calories an ounce.  So not really a low calorie food.  But researchers have been finding that these calorie counts for nuts, may be too high, as much as 25% too high.  So nuts may not be providing as many calories as labels say because we don’t digest 100% of the nuts.  But even so, wouldn’t 130 calories an ounce be too much?

Nuts and Weight Gain – A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied people who ate 1-3 ounces of nuts a day.  Surprisingly, those who ate nuts did not gain weight, increase their Body Mass Index, or the size of their waist line. 

So nuts are pretty high in calories, but eating nuts doesn’t seem to promote weight gain.  Why is this?  Researchers theorize that nuts have protein, fat, fiber that fill you up so you eat less of other foods. 

So try a handful of nuts every day.  There are many types and varieties to choose from.  Just look for unsalted or lightly salted and enjoy a snack of nuts at work, school or home this week. 
In my cupboard is the Planter’s Nutrition Heart Healthy Mix of peanuts, almonds pistachios, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts.   The label notes it has half the sodium of Planter’s Mixed Nuts. 

-          Buy a container of mixed nuts.   Put a handful of mixed nuts in a 5 or more baggies. 
-          Take the baggies to work and instead of a candy bar or other unhealthy snack choice from the vending machine, eat your baggie of mixed nuts with some water as a snack
-          On a car trip, pull out a baggie of mixed nuts as a health snack. 
-          Running errands?  Take a baggie of mixed nuts with you and when you need a snack pull this out and have a healthy snack. 

Sources:
Nuts are on a roll, Wellness Letter, University of California, Berkeley, October 2013
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nuts/HB00085

(Image source:  http://i.walmartimages.com/i/p/00/02/90/00/05/0002900005957_500X500.jpg)

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