Are You Nuts About Nuts?

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Many question whether nuts are a healthy snack. Rest assured that they are! Even though some shy away from nuts due to their fat content, the fact remains that nuts are a very nutritious component of a healthy diet. Research studies have shown that eating nuts on a weekly basis (in moderation) is even associated with a reduced risk of weight gain, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Nuts have also been shown to improve heart health.[1] However, to get the most nutritional value out of the nuts you consume, it’s important to understand how to shop for nuts and why you should eat them in moderation (which is not because they will make you fat!).

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    In general, nuts contain a mix of healthy fat, fiber, plant sterols, vitamins and minerals. Remember that healthy fats are a necessity for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, keeping you satiated with fewer calories, providing energy, transporting nutrients to cells, hormone and immune system function, and mental health. Nuts are also about 20-30% protein, an ounce of which provides more protein than a single egg.[2] Below are nutritional details for each nut as well as shopping tips for selecting the healthiest varieties. As a general rule, you’ll want to buy raw, unsalted, organic nuts since cooking and processing destroys many of the nutrients. Vegetable oils, processed salt and other seasonings added to nuts are also typically detrimental to your health.

     

    Almonds

    Arguably one of the healthiest nut on the planet, almonds are packed with antioxidants (phenols, flavonoids and phenolic acids), LDL-lowering mono-saturated fats, magnesium and potassium, both important for cardiovascular health.[2] When shopping for almonds, it’s very difficult to find truly raw ones due to the 2007 USDA mandate requiring pasteurization (and still allowing the “raw” packaging label) on US grown varieties. Look for imported raw almonds or shop in farmer’s markets where they are allowed to sell small amounts of truly raw almonds. It’s also important to eat the skin, as that is where many of the nutritional properties are found. Another great tip is to soak raw almonds for 12 to 24 hours in order to “activate” them (which means they could be sprouted), allowing the body to extract their live enzymes. You can also opt to dehydrate them after soaking if you prefer a dry almond.

     

    Cashews

    Cashews contain most of the same nutrients as almonds and other varieties of nuts. They are rich in iron, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, copper and zinc. In addition to promoting heart health, they have also been shown to provide colon cancer protection.[3] Cashews are excellent for making delicious vegan “cheese”, deserts and blended sauces and dressings. As with almonds, it’s quite difficult to find raw varieties (even if labeled as such) due to the challenge of removing the cashew from its toxic shell, which requires heat. However, an Indonesian producer (sold as an imported product in the US) has found a way to remove the nut form the shell by hand using a special tool that doesn’t expose the cashew to the toxin resin. This raw variety is by far superior to all other cashews on the market.

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    Walnuts

    Walnuts are a great source of plant-based Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which can support disease and cancer prevention, reduce inflammation and improve mental wellbeing. Omega 3 is essential for balancing our usually excessive Omega 6 consumption, found in vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats. Studies have also shown walnuts to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, reverse brain aging (in rats) and boost heart health in diabetics.[4]

     

    Pecans

    Pecans contain over 19 vitamins and minerals, including many of the nutrients found in other nuts.[5] This means that they are also great for lowering cholesterol and a maintaining healthy heart function.

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    Brazil Nuts

    Brazil nuts are highlighted as the food with the highest amount of selenium (70-90 mcg per nut). Selenium is a trace mineral with strong antioxidant properties, extremely helpful for reducing cancer risk among other health benefits. It’s important to keep your selenium intake to a minimum, ideally no higher than 200-300mcg/day.[6] This equates to only a few brazil nuts per day.

     

    Other healthy nuts not mentioned, include hazelnuts, pistachios and macademia nuts, which are native to Hawaii and just as nutrient packed and versatile as cashew nuts. Remember that peanuts are actually part of the legume family and are not technically classified as a nut. I would recommend avoiding peanuts as they are highly contaminated with pesticides as well as a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, a potential cancer-promoting carcinogen.

     

    Also, pregnant women shouldn’t concern themselves with avoiding nuts during pregnancy. Although some older studies indicated that eating nuts (especially peanuts) could lead to a nut allergy in their offspring, new research does not support this. Eating nuts can provide nutritional benefits for both mother and child when consumed in moderation.[7]

     

    As a final point, the reason to keep nut consumption to a minimum is not to avoid becoming fat. As stated above, those who eat nuts tend to maintain lower body weights. However, with the exception of walnuts, nuts are generally very high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Keeping your Omega 6/3 ratio in balance is critical for optimal health. Some good sources of Omega 3 are flax seed and fish oil.

     

    [1] Whitelocks, S. (2012, April 13). Eating nuts can help stave off obesity, says study. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2129232/Eating-nuts-help-stave-obesity-says-study.html

     

    [2] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20

     

    [3] (2011, July 15) Retrieved from http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/7-health-benefits-of-cashews.html

     

    [4] Mercola, J. (2012, March 7). This popular nut slashed breast cancer risk in mice by 50%.Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/07/fda-says-walnuts-are-drugs.aspx

     

    [5] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.ilovepecans.org/nutrition.html

     

    [6] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/

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    [7] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9503860/Eating-nuts-in-pregnancy-reduces-chance-of-childhood-allergy.html

Published On: April 18, 2013