by Winston J. Craig
Nuts and seeds are high in both fat and calories. So how could they ever be considered a healthy food? Well, not all fat is created equal. The majority of the fat in nuts and seeds is a healthy unsaturated fat, which produces a favorable effect upon both one’s blood lipid and blood glucose levels.
Recently, a number of human studies have reported that a frequent consumption of nuts is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. In the Adventist Health Study, people who ate nuts one to four times per week had a 25 percent reduction in risk of heart disease while those who ate nuts five or more times per week experienced a 50 percent reduction in risk, compared to people who ate nuts less than once a week. Furthermore, in the Nurses’ Health Study, women who ate nuts frequently had a 39 percent lower risk of fatal heart disease compared with those rarely eating nuts.
As a result, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved a claim for some nuts to be designated as useful for preventing heart disease. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts were all given the green light since they contain only one to two grams of saturated fat per ounce. On the other hand, Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamia nuts, which have slightly more saturated fat (three to five grams per ounce), did not receive the FDA approval, although they are still considered healthy food. To date, no nut has been proven to be better than another.
Clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of diets containing about two ounces of almonds, pecans, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, or walnuts to significantly lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels about ten to 15 percent. A study done at Harvard showed that a consumption of nuts or peanut butter five or more times a week may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20–25 percent.
In addition to containing good fat, nuts also contain a significant level of potassium, magnesium, folic acid, copper, and dietary fiber, all of which are important for cardiovascular health. Most nuts also contain significant levels of vitamin E as well as phytochemicals such as flavonoids and phytosterols, substances known to provide protection against cancer and heart disease. Walnuts are different from other nuts in that they provide a rich source of omega-3 fat. This makes walnuts also useful for lowering triglycerides and the risk of stroke.
To achieve the health benefits of nuts, one should increase consumption of nuts to about one ounce a day, at least four times per week. Nuts can be sprinkled on your favorite salad, casserole, or dessert, or added to your breakfast cereal, bread, or stir-fry.
Winston Craig, Ph.D., R.D., is a professor of nutrition at Andrews University.
Nuts are high in fat, but it’s a good fat.
Nuts can lower your risk of heart disease by 50 percent.