Nuts have undergone a major rebrand over the past decade! Once shunned by dieters and 90s-era fat-phobes, nuts are now touted as a health-promoting and even diet-friendly food.
Over the past few years, researchers have discovered several specific properties of nuts that help lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, and improve blood vessel function. These discoveries led the FDA to issue a “qualified health claim” in 2003 stating: “Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease.”
Although the nutrition profile of each type of nut varies slightly, almost all nuts contain heart-healthy fats and fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, and other beneficial substances.
1 and 2. “Good” Fats and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Although research suggests that a dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 1:1 is ideal, most people following a typical Western diet have an intake ratio of closer to 15:1! This highly skewed ratio comes both as a result of the under-consumption of omega-3s (found in certain nuts, seeds, greens) and the over-consumption of omega-6s (found in poultry, eggs, wheat, and many vegetable oils).
Refined oils (namely corn and soybean oil) found in processed foods, as well as saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) are major contributors to the typical American’s over-consumption of unhealthy fats. Focusing on whole, plant-based foods in general will naturally help bring your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio into a healthier balance.
Excessive amounts of omega-6 in the diet and a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promote cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Conversely, higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, and help manage inflammatory conditions including arthritis and asthma.
Omega-3 fatty acids also help protect against irregular heart rhythms, a problem that can lead to heart attacks, and lower levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the bloodstream. Blood triglyceride levels are an important indicator of heart health, with high levels increasing heart disease risk.
Containing mostly “good” fats, nuts are one of the best sources of a type of heart-healthy omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Most of the fat in nuts is polyunsaturated, with smaller quantities of monounsaturated and saturated fat. Omega-3s are a specific type of polyunsaturated fat that have cholesterol-lowering and disease-prevention properties.
Nuts are rich in L-arginine, an amino acid that has been shown to improve blood vessel function. Specifically, L-arginine helps relax blood vessels, making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that could block blood flow.
Arginine has also been shown to boost immune function, promote wound healing, and help manage existing cardiovascular disease. Nuts are the best dietary sources of arginine. Walnuts, peanuts and almonds are especially high in the amino acid.
Dietary fiber has numerous health benefits, including normalizing bowel movements, maintaining bowel health, lowering blood cholesterol, helping to control blood sugar levels, and aiding in weight loss.
Fiber increases stool bulk, making it easier to pass and helping to prevent constipation. It can also enhance overall colon health, providing relief from irritable bowel syndrome and reducing your risk of developing hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
Nuts are an excellent source of soluble fiber, the type that helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. They are also low on the glycemic index, a property thought to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
5: Vitamin E
Finally, nuts are an excellent source of Vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin receives the most attention as a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin E has the ability to seek out and neutralize potentially damaging chemicals, in theory preventing damage to body tissues and red blood cells. Vitamin E is also essential for healthy skin, proper immune function, DNA repair, and other metabolic processes.
Perhaps most impressively, Vitamin E has been found to help stop the development of arterial plaque, which can lead to coronary artery disease and ultimately heart attacks. Among nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and peanut butter have the highest Vitamin E content per serving.
Eat More Nuts!
Nuts are a tasty and nutritious component of a healthy, balanced diet. Grab a handful of nuts as a snack, spread nut butter on an apple or rice cake, or use them in a raw dessert recipes…the possibilities are endless. Enjoy in good health!
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