Nuts and Seeds

Patient Expert

Nuts and seeds are an important part of the diet of all of us who have diabetes. But unless we are too thin, we don't want to make them too important.

A few people with diabetes are too thin. For them I have long recommended that they eat a lot of nuts and seeds.

The rest of us need to eat them in moderation, because they have a lot of fat. And fat is the most caloric dense of all the macro-nutrients. Compared to carbohydrate and protein, which provide us with 4 calories per gram, fat is more than twice as calorie dense. Fat has 9 calories per gram. So eating a lot of fat is the easiest way to get fat.

Still, it's not better to eat no fat. We absolutely have to eat both protein and fat. The famous arctic explorer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, proved that about 80 years ago when researchers at New York's Bellevue Hospital tested him and a companion. The explorers completely avoided carbohydrates with no ill effects. But when the weren't given any fat to eat, Stefansson developed nausea and diarrhea until the researchers added some fat back into his diet. Some nuts and seeds can be the best source of fat. I used to think, along with many other people, that cheese was just about as good a source. But some researchers have begun to suspect that cheese can cause endotheial inflammation. Consequently, I rarely eat cheese any more. I also used to think that all nuts and seeds were created just about equal. In fact, I fell for the almond industry's hype that almonds are the best nuts.

When I began to study the omega 3 fats and the omega 3 to omega 6 fat ratio, I learned otherwise. Omega 6 fats aren't good for us when we eat too much of them. But omega 3 fats can make us healthier in many ways. We can reduce our risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer. A lower omega 6 to omega 3 ratio also reduces inflammation.

Most of us eat 10 times or more omega 6 than omega 3. But the experts I cited in my earlier articles agree that we would be much healthier if we had only 2 or 3 times as much omega 6 as omega 3.

The trouble with most nuts and seeds is that they have unacceptably high omega 6 to omega 3 ratios. And almonds have a ratio that is off the chart.

Walnuts are the nuts with the best ratio. It's about 4.2 omega 6 to 1.0 omega 3. That makes walnuts my nut of choice -- especially because I'm not crazy about them.

If I were crazy about walnuts, I couldn't keep them on hand. I would gobble them right down.

The nuts with the second best ratio are macadamias. They have a ratio of 6.3 omega 6 to 1.0 omega 3. Unfortunately, I love them far too much and get fat eating them. Recently, the stores where I shop were all out of macadamia nuts. So I bought a jar of macadamia nut butter. It was so good In fact, I consumed the entire jar in one sitting. My weight the next day was, not surprisingly, up a full two pounds.

The best data on the omega 6 to omega 3 ratios of nuts comes from Loren Cordain's Paleo Diet book (pages 125-126). It includes some seeds -- pumpkin and sunflower specifically. But their ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is too high even to consider.

For some reason he doesn't list flax seeds, even while recognizing that flaxseed oil has the best ratio of the oils. But even better than flax seeds are chia seeds, which Professor Cordain apparently wasn't aware of when he wrote his important book.

Chia seeds remain a staple of my diet more than a year after my first article about them here. Every morning a hearty sprinkle of them goes on my eggs. And every time I eat a salad -- which is most days -- I put on even more.

Walnuts and chia seeds are helping to keep me healthy. They can help you too.