Ready, Set, Go Nuts!
While nuts were once thought of as a dieter’s high-fat nightmare, they are now viewed as a healthy component of any diet. From lowering cholesterol to protecting against heart disease and certain cancers, research continues to show that many health benefits can be obtained from eating nuts. Read on to learn about the benefits of eating nuts and how different nut varieties stack up against one another.
Nutrition Facts and Figures
Regardless of the type, all nuts provide the following beneficial nutrients:
The Favorable Fats – Although nuts are high in fat, the majority of the fat is healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats lower “bad” LDL-cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Another benefit of nuts is that they naturally don’t contain any cholesterol.
Protein Power – Nuts are one of the best plant sources of protein and can be a great substitute for some of the animal protein in ones diet.
Vitamin E Vitality – Most nuts are high in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that may help prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. LDL oxidation causes cholesterol to adhere to artery walls and block blood flow. Nuts have more vitamin E than any other food (except for oils).
Fiber – All nuts contain fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol (soluble fiber) and keep you regular (insoluble fiber). Fiber also makes you feel full (aiding in weight loss) and fiber is thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
Cancer Cutting Compounds – Nuts contain a variety of compounds that may help decrease one’s risk of cancer. They are good sources of various flavonoids, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Although ALL nuts provide the above health benefits, all nut varieties are not created equal. Below are some of the nutritional differences between the popular varieties of nuts.
Peanuts (1 ounce = 30 nuts) – Although commonly thought of as a nut, peanuts are actually legumes and belong in the same family as the bean and pea. However, since they are nutritionally similar to nuts, they are often referred to as “groundnuts”. Peanuts actually contain more protein, fiber, and vitamin E than any other nut.
Alyse’s Tip : Add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter to an apple or banana for a snack.
Walnuts (1ounce = 15 nuts) – High in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential (omega-3) fatty acid that helps to lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of blood clots, and lower blood pressure. Also, walnuts contain a compound called ellagic acid that provides many anti-cancer properties.
Alyse’s Tip : Try adding a tablespoon of chopped walnuts to your oatmeal in the morning.
Almonds (1 ounce = 25 nuts) – Provide more protein, fiber, vitamin E, and riboflavin than any other “real” nut, as well as ample calcium, magnesium and potassium. These nutrients help prevent osteoporosis, regulate blood pressure and act as powerful antioxidants.
Alyse’s Tip : Add sliced/roasted almonds to a favorite vegetable, such as fresh green beans.
Cashews (1 ounce = 20 nuts) – Provide more of the essential trace elements like iron, copper and zinc than all other nuts.
Alyse’s Tip : Try substituting cashews for beef or chicken in your stir-fry.
Pistachios (1 ounce = 45 nuts) – When it comes to serving size, pistachios offer more nuts in a 1 ounce serving than any other tree nut. Pistachios are very high in potassium (1 ounce has as much potassium as an orange), which helps to decrease blood pressure. Additionally, the nut’s green color comes from the antioxidant lutein, which may help prevent macular degeneration in adults. To learn more about the health benefits of pistachios, check out www.thegreennut.org.
Alyse’s Tip : Try grinding up some pistachios and mix with herbs as a coating for fish or chicken.
Despite all of the potential health benefits of consuming nuts, you still must use prudence when adding nuts to your diet. Although the fat in nuts is healthy fat, it is still FAT; therefore nuts are very calorie dense. Here are some additional tips for adding nuts into your diet:
Substitute nuts for other less nutritious high calorie foods
* Top a garden salad with nuts instead of croutons.
* Make a sandwich with nut butter instead of meat.
Limit your portion size
* Look for 1.5 ounce packages of nuts at grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s or 100 calorie packs by companies such as Blue Diamond and Emerald.
* Fill a small tin (such as an “Altoids” container) with nuts to snack on throughout the day.
Opt for raw or dry roasted, unsalted nuts
* Nuts that are roasted in oil contain extra fat and calories without any additional nutritional benefit.
* Limiting sodium intake is important for those with high blood pressure or a salt sensitivity.
Toast nuts to bring out flavor without adding calories
* Shell nuts and place in a single layer in a skillet over medium heat. Stir for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown. This can also be done using a baking pan in the oven.
Incorporating nuts into your diet is a very easy way to decrease your cholesterol, risk of heart disease and blood pressure. Each type of nut contains many unique nutrients, so eat a variety of nuts to get the maximum benefits. However, do not forget that nuts are high in calories; therefore, nuts should substitute other high calorie, less nutritious foods in your diet and only be eaten in moderation.