A Health Nut’s Guide to Nuts
When the national health establishment began urging everyone toward low-fat and no-fat diets in the 1970s, people started shying away from nuts because of their relatively high fat content. But now that study after study has revealed the health problems associated with a low-fat diet, nuts are back on the radar of health-conscious people. This is great news because many of them are powerhouse foods, delivering important vitamins and minerals with the protein and energy that they provide.
Historically, nuts have been a nutrition- and energy-dense food that helped people survive the winter months, when hunting and crops weren’t easily available. Nuts were especially valuable because they stored much nutrition into minimal storage space, and enjoyed a long shelf life compared to other foods.
Today, focus has returned to the nutritional value of nuts, and people can enjoy the health benefits that they provide without hesitation or guilt. The delicious flavors are just a bonus, but an important bonus.
Here are some of the healthiest nuts that we can freely enjoy now, as more is learned about how people use their diets to keep themselves operating at optimum levels.
Walnuts are a treasure trove of healthy nutrients. They are remarkably rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are important for cognitive function, heart health, and provide anti-inflammatory effects that counter psoriasis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Walnuts are also a great source of Ellagic Acid, an anti-oxidant that has shown its value in combating some cancers, fighting heart disease, and promoting liver health.
Almonds are another nutritional powerhouse to have in your diet. One half-cup of almonds has almost as much calcium as a half-cup of milk, plus vitamin E and the important elements magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium.
Almonds are especially good for colon health. A study of animals given a colon cancer causing agent found that the test subjects given whole almonds developed the cancer at a lower rate than the subjects given almond oil or no almonds at all. One possible factor is almond’s high fiber content.
Cashews are lower in fat content than most nuts, and that fat is mostly unsaturated fatty acids, which are recognized as being important to heart heath. Of those fatty acids, 90% is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy fat that we treasure in olive oil.
Cashews provide 5 grams of protein per ounce, and are rich in iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, copper and manganese. Other products of the cashew tree are also rich in nutrients, but travel so poorly that they are only eaten in cashew-producing areas of South America.
Pecans supply 19 important vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A, E, and several of the B family and folic acid
- Calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and potassium
Pecans also have been shown to significantly help reduce the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in people who eat 3/4 cup of them daily, according to a study done at New Mexico State University.
Pecans are also rich in fiber; a one ounce serving provides 2.7 grams of fiber, 11% of the RDA.
Beyond the usual rich mix of nutrients that we can get from nuts, Brazil nuts are especially rich in selenium, with only 4 nuts providing over 100% of the RDA. A diet rich in selenium helps provide the enzyme triodithyronine, which is essential in supporting Thyroid health.
Selenium is also important in supporting immune system function and preventing heart disease.
Above and beyond the usual nutritional content we’re coming to expect from nuts, Macadamia nuts are cholesterol-free, and will reduce the levels of LDLs in the blood of people who eat them. They are also rich in anti-oxidants, which help prevent some types of cancer, including breast, cervical, prostate, stomach and lung cancer.
The fats in Macadamia nuts don’t lead to obesity, quite the opposite. The fats in Macadamias are almost entirely monounsaturated fats, and these fats promote weight loss. They are also rich in proteins, dietary fiber, and minerals that play an essential part in bone health. They are also rich in oleic acid, which plays a key role in memory and reducing the symptoms of asthma.
Hazelnuts, sometimes called Filberts, are at the top of the list of tree nuts in providing folate content, with 8% of the RDA per serving. Adequate folate intake has been linked to decreased risk cardiovascular disease, depression, and megaloblastic anemia.
They are also exceptionally rich in other parts of the B-complex vitamins, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and selenium.
While actually being a legume rather than a nut, peanuts have also suffered in popularity because of the popular misconceptions about the health risks and benefits of nuts. Nutritionally, they are very similar to the tree nuts that we’ve already looked at.
Peanuts are a high-energy food rich in protein, supplying over 25 grams of protein in a 100 gram serving. They supply high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), particularly oleic acid, and these help optimize the balance of LDL and HDL in our systems.
Peanuts are also a rich source of polyphenolic antioxidants, primarily p-coumaric acid. This nutrient has been thought to help in reducing the risk of stomach cancer. Another polyphenolic antioxidant that peanuts provide is resveratrol, which has been shown to help prevent cancers, heart and nerve disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Rather than believe earlier misconceptions about the impact of nuts on our health, it has become clear that to improve our nutritional health, it’s a good idea to go nuts.