Nuts and nutrition
By Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM
Nuts have been a staple food source for many countries and cultures around the world for centuries. Nuts have at times been misrepresented as just a high calorie snack food. Research has shown that nuts are nutrition superstars due to their many health benefits. Nuts provide healthy fats, protein, fiber, and other important nutrients.
Why are nuts so good for the heart and other diseases?
Consuming nuts as part of a healthy meal pattern had been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. Clinical trials have also demonstrated that nut consumption helps with improving insulin resistance as well as triglyceride and cholesterol levels. In addition, some evidence has shown improvement in oxidative stress which leads to inflammation (1,2).
Nuts contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) also known as “bad’ cholesterol. The fiber in nuts helps us feel full and satisfied. Nuts also helps with lowering cholesterol levels and may also help with decreasing risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Vitamin E found in nuts and can help with decreasing the formation of plaque in our arteries. Nuts also contain Omega-3 fatty acids that can help the heart by assisting in the prevention of irregular heart rhythms, which can lead to a heart attack (1,2).
A research study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that the participants in the study who replaced unhealthy foods with nuts were at a lower risk of developing stroke, cardiovascular and coronary artery disease by eating just half an ounce of nuts per day compared to the participants who made no changes in their nut intake over the 26-year study period. This was especially seen in those who used nuts as a replacement for meat, processed meat, French fries, refined grains, and sweets (1).
A 2019 study revealed that those who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and increased their consumption of nuts also had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary artery disease as well as a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease as compared to those in the study who did not change their nut consumption (1).
Are all nuts health benefits equal?
In general, all nuts have health benefits. Walnuts contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans and hazelnuts also provide many health benefits. Interestingly, peanuts are not nuts and are classified as legumes, which also have health advantages (1,2).
Remember that the health benefits from nuts can vanish quickly if we are not careful. Nuts contain healthy fats but not paying attention to portion sizes can lead to a high caloric intake. Also choose raw and dry roasted nuts that are not cooked in oil or covered with chocolate or other coatings and salt. The American Heart Association recommends eating about four servings of unsalted nuts per week. A serving of nuts is considered 1.5 ounces of whole nuts, or two tablespoons of nut butter. Portion sizes vary between the different types of nuts. Here is a comparison of 1 ounce serving of a few different types of nuts: (3). Almonds-24, Pecan halves-15, Walnut halves-14, Brazil nuts-8, Macadamia nuts-12, Medium cashews-18, Hazel nuts or filberts-12 (2,3).
Purchasing 100 calorie packets of nuts is convenient and takes the guessing out of portion sizes. Check the food labels for portion size and calories and remember the portion size stated may not be what’s recommended.
How do I include more nuts in my meal plan?
Research has shown that exchanging nuts for less healthy foods provide the most benefits.
- Try nuts on salads for that crunch rather than croutons or bacon bits.
- Feel like chips? Try some nuts with a piece of fruit and you will be pleasantly surprised how full and satisfied you feel.
- Try substituting nuts for chocolate chips in baked products.
- Add some nuts to yogurt or oatmeal.
- Try crushing nuts and use as an alternative to breadcrumbs.
- Add nuts to stir fry or to a pasta dish.
Nuts are nutritious and delicious and by adding them to a healthy meal pattern may help improve our health and decrease our risk of developing certain diseases.
- Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health – Mayo Clinic
Daphne Baldwin Kornrich, MS, RDN, CSOWM has been a registered dietitian nutritionist for 30 years, working in a wide variety of clinical and outpatient settings. Daphne currently specializes in Bariatrics and weight management.