The Health Benefits of Nuts
Let’s talk about the health benefits of nuts. During the last decade or two, the the general understanding and positive influence of nuts in our diet has grown. This is likely a response to the growing body of research demonstrating the many potential benefits of having them as a regular staple in your diet.
The purpose of this post is just to broadly cover the benefits of the food group as a whole. Each nut has some individual benefits (for example, Almonds are high in calcium), however I will not spend much time focusing on individual nuts during this presentation.
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What is in a nut that makes it healthy?
Some of the metabolically active products in nuts that may confer health benefits includes:
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids
- the good dietary fat
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- nuts are one of the best plant based sources
- Various vitamins, including vitamin E, Folate
- Plant sterols
- Minerals, including Magnesium, Copper
- Other bioactive compounds
What are the health benefits?
Prior studies have found that increased nut intake is associated with a reduction in risk of:
- Heart disease
- For example, one study found consuming 5 oz of nuts/ wk reduced risk of death due to heart disease by 35%
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cancer mortality
- Respiratory disease mortality
- Improved blood sugar control
- bad cholesterol (LDL)
- blood clots (thromboembolic disease)
- clogged arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Weight loss and healthy weight maintenance
- Improved cognition, reduction in risk and progression of alzheimer’s disease
Nuts are very dense with calories and fat, 80% of which are healthy fats. Certainly, some nuts are more energy dense than others, for example 1 oz of Macadamia nuts (204) and Pecans (201) have more than 200 calories. This is in contrast to Almonds (169), Cashews (163), Pistachios (161), and Peanuts (166). which are in the 160 calories per 1 oz serving range. As an example, you see the nutritional facts for almonds which includes 162 calories, 14g of fat and 6g of protein in 1 oz or 28 grams.
Keep in mind that 1 oz of peanuts is not a lot, a handful at most. So as healthy as nuts are, remember that calories matter and these are very calorie dense. As an example, the American Heart Association recommends eating 4 servings of unsalted nuts per week. So like most things, nuts in moderation confer many healthy benefits.
What about nut oils?
Nut oils are processed to maintain their consistency, and as a result lose some of their nutritional content including the fiber found in whole nuts. They still contain healthy fats, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E for example. Walnut oil is listed as the highest in omega-3s. Dieticians are still going to recommend something like extra virgin olive oil for most things, but there is a place for nut oils in your meals.