People like me are nuts about nuts. These delicious little nuggets are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Fiber in nuts helps you feel full after eating only a few.
Of course, there is a downside. Most nuts are also high in calories and have the same number of calories per ounce. Overindulging can expand your waistline.
Most nut fat is monounsaturated, omega-6, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Nuts also contain some saturated fat. Nuts are high in magnesium and vitamin E.
Many scientific studies have shown that people who consume nuts live longer than those who don’t. Researchers are testing nuts to see if they lower risk factors for metabolic disorders such as high blood pressure. One study involving 1,200 people concluded that eating a Mediterranean diet plus 30 grams of nuts per day decreased the incidence of metabolic syndrome more than a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil.
Ironically, nuts are also a common allergen, a usually-harmless substance that can trigger a response that starts in the immune system and results in an allergic reaction. Some people with no prior history develop a new allergy after eating nuts. Swelling or itching in the throat or face signal an allergic reaction. Stop eating the nuts immediately and get urgent medical care as severe nut allergies can be lethal.
For all you weight watchers, almonds, cashews, and pistachios are the “leanest” nuts, with 160 calories per ounce:
- Twenty-three almonds provide 6 grams of protein and 14 grams of fat
- Sixteen to eighteen cashews contain 5 grams of protein and 13 grams fat
- Forty-nine pistachios deliver 6 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat
Eating a diet rich in almonds can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and heart-harmful oxidized LDL cholesterol. Almonds can help people lose weight and bring down blood pressure levels in those with overweight or obesity.
A study on cashews showed that a diet containing 20 percent of calories from cashews improved blood pressure in patients suffering from metabolic syndrome. Most of the fats in cashews are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats which provide energy from calories without clogging the heart.
Pistachios have been linked with reducing rising blood sugar after a meal. They can improve “good” HDL cholesterol levels as well as other cardiac disease risk factors such as blood pressure, weight, and oxidative status (blood levels of oxidized chemicals which can contribute to heart disease).
Nuts packaged or roasted in oil are higher in calories and less nutritious so go for raw or dry-roasted nuts. Roasting nuts in heated hydrogenated or omega-6 unhealthy fats or to high temperatures can destroy their nutrients.
If you don’t care about snarfing down a lot of fatty calories, go for pecans and macadamia nuts which have 200 calories per ounce:
- Eighteen to twenty pecan halves contain 3 grams of protein and 20 grams of fat
- Ten to twelve macadamia nuts have 2 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat
Even for people concerned about putting on weight, considering that the difference between a pecan half and an almond is only 40 calories, the choice shouldn’t be all that agonizing. Just go for moderation.
Pecans are not only the stuff of great pies but also a tasty snack by the handful. Some research has linked eating pecans to lowering LDL cholesterol. Polyphenols in pecans and other nuts are antioxidant compounds which fight cell damage from free radicals. One four-week study found that participants who ate pecans as 20% of their daily calorie intake showed improved antioxidant blood profiles.
If you can afford them, eating a diet rich in macadamia nuts can lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. These nuts are native to Australia and grown extensively in Hawai’i. They lower cardiac risk factors that include oxidative stress and inflammation.
Walnuts are thought to be good for cardiac health because of their high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid which comes from plants. ALA may stabilize heart arrhythmias. A 2006 study from Spain found walnuts were as effective as olive oil at reducing arterial inflammation and oxidation after eating a fatty meal. The study authors, backed partially by the California Walnut Commission, advised eating about eight walnuts daily to get the same results.
Brazil nuts come from a tree in the Amazon rainforest and are notable for their high levels of the antioxidant mineral selenium. A one-ounce serving of Brazil nuts packs more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. These nuts reduce cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and have been shown to improve the function of blood vessels in obese teenagers.
Barring a food allergy, you can’t go wrong with any raw, plain nut, free of salts and other garnishes. Add them to cereal, trail mix or sprinkle over a salad. Drink nut milks, spread nut butters, or scoop up a handful for a healthy snack.