Health Nuts: Eating Nuts May Be Healthful
You are what you eat. You may think you’re a health nut—you eat whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. But if you avoid nuts because they’re high in fat, you may not be as healthy as you can be. Nuts have traditionally received a bad rap for their high-fat, and therefore high-calorie content, especially from people watching their weight. But recent research reveals many reasons to include nuts in your diet—one of which is the very fat that made you avoid them!
Nuts contain mostly “good,” unsaturated fat—the type that is believed to help improve heart health. Most Americans consume too much “bad,” saturated fat, which is found mostly in meats and high-fat dairy products. Research has shown that reducing saturated fat and increasing unsaturated fat can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. One study published in the Lancet indicated that a diet including unsaturated fats from almonds and walnuts (in addition to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) may lower cholesterol levels to a greater degree than the traditional, cholesterol-lowering National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) step I diet.
There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Nuts contain both types of unsaturated fat and only small amounts of saturated fat, in varying amounts depending on the type of nut. Some research suggests that one type of polyunsaturated fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, may play a role in the prevention of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Most Americans need to increase their intakes of these healthful fatty acids. Walnuts and almonds contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 13
*Someone following a 2,000 calorie diet should average a maximum of 67 grams of fat per day.
¤ Someone following a 2,000 calorie diet should average a maximum of 22 grams of saturated fat per day.
× Someone following a 2,000 calorie diet should average a maximum of 45 grams of unsaturated fat per day.
In addition to fat, nuts contain many other important nutrients.
Nuts are a great source of protein and unusually rich in one amino acid (a building-block of protein) called arginine, which may also be linked to heart health benefits. Arginine widens and relaxes blood vessels; this, in turn, may reduce the danger of blood clots that can lead to heart attacks.
Pecans, walnuts, and almonds are rich in vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that is important for normal development of nerves and cells in the lungs and blood. Researchers at Tufts University have found that vitamin E may also play a role in keeping the immune system strong as we age. Some studies have shown that vitamin E may lower the risk of heart disease, too, although studies have been conflicting.
Specific Nutrients in Specific Nuts
Almonds contain 8% of the daily value of calcium, which is the amount in about one-third of a cup of milk.
Brazil nuts contain about 210 times the amount of selenium found in other nuts; selenium may help protect against cancer according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Some nuts, such as hazelnuts and walnuts, contain 8% of the daily value of folate, which is a B vitamin that protects against birth defects and may also protect against cancer and heart disease.
Peanuts contain plant sterols, or phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, and have been used in margarine-like spreads, such as Benecol.
Some nuts, including peanuts, also contain the substance resveratrol—the same compound found in red wine—which has been shown to lower heart disease risk.
In a nutshell, the table below summarizes the nutrient contents of several types of tree nuts and peanuts. (While similar in nutrient content and usage to tree nuts, peanuts are actually legumes, which grow underground).
Other Nutrients in a One-Ounce Serving of Nuts
Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 13
¤ Someone following a 2,000 calorie diet should consume approximately 60 to 75 grams of protein per day.
× Someone following a 2,000 calorie diet should consume 25 grams of fiber per day. A high fiber food has at least three grams of fiber per serving.
* Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Make Room for Nuts
Of course, while nuts have many benefits, you still need to make room for them in your diet by cutting down on calories from other foods or drinks. Check out these 10 foods and drinks you could skip today to make way for an ounce (a small handful) of nuts.
Each serving listed is approximately 180 calories, the amount in one ounce of nuts.
- 9 restaurant-style tortilla chips
- 1-½ chewy chocolate-chip granola bars
- 14 ounces of soda or beer
- 1 package of 6 cheese and crackers (found in vending machines)
- 1/3 cup ice cream
- 10 ounces of Fresh Samantha fruit juice smoothie (a little more than half the bottle)
- 18 Baked Lays (potato chips)
- ¾ of a package of plain M&M’s
- Six ounces of a 10-ounce café mocha
- 1-¼ Nutri-Grain (cereal bar) strawberry
The Nuts and Bolts of Adding Nuts to Your Foods
Nuts are easy. They don’t require cooking or preparing. They are portable and even found in vending machines. And they go well with everything from gourmet meals to beer.
- Add nuts to your morning meal.
- Make an easy batch of homemade granola bars with oats, cheerios, peanut butter, and dried fruit. Grab and go.
- Make your own trail mix with your favorite nuts, dried fruits (apricots, cranberries, raisins), and a higher fiber cereal (shredded wheat, Kashi Heart to Heart cereal, Cheerios, etc).
- Mix some nuts into your pasta dishes. Try adding walnuts to your pasta tossed with olive oil, fresh basil, and tomatoes. Also try using peanut butter as a sauce, tossed with penne pasta, roasted butternut squash, eggplant, and shallots.
- Add nuts to side dishes. Try brown rice, raisins, and hazelnuts. Or add pine nuts to your couscous with feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Add almonds to your green beans, or hazelnuts to your sautéed spinach.
- Mix finely chopped nuts with an equal amount of seasoned breadcrumbs to coat your fish or chicken with flavor before baking, broiling, or grilling.
- Stir nuts into your stir-fry dishes. Cashews and peanuts also work well. Try adding some peanut butter to create a thicker stir-fry sauce.
- Add nuts to your favorite chicken salad recipe. Spice up your chicken salad with curry powder, grapes, and almonds. Or try chicken salad with apples and walnuts.
- Try whipping up an almond smoothie. Put a handful of nuts in a blender with some milk, ice, vanilla or almond extract, and a sweetener of your choice (maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, etc). Blend well. Make it thick, freeze it, and eat it like ice cream.
No-Bake Granola Bars
- 2½ cup cheerios, crushed
- 2 cups quick-cooking oats, uncooked
- ½ cup raisins or chopped apricots
- ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup chocolate morsels
Combine first 3 ingredients in large bowl; set aside. Bring brown sugar and honey to boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until blended. Pour peanut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated; let stand 10 minutes. Stir in chocolate morsels. Press mixture into a 13 x 9 inch pan; cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars; wrap individually with plastic wrap.
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Abbey M, Noakes M, Belling G, et al. Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. Amer J Clin Nutr. 1994;59:995-999.
Albert CM, Willett WC, Manson JE, et al. Nut consumption and the risk of sudden and total cardiac death in the Physicians Health Study. Abstract, American Heart Association. November 9-11, 1998.
Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. NEJM.1997;336:1117-1123.
Awad AB, Chan K, Downie A, et al. Peanuts as a source of B-Sitosterol, a sterol with anticancer properties. Nutr and Canc. 2000;36:238-241.
Feldman EB. LSRO Report: The scientific evidence for a beneficial health relationship between walnuts and coronary heart disease. J Nutr. 2002;132:1062S-1101S.
Fraser G, Sabate J, Beeson LW, et al. A possible effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. Arch Inter Med. 1992;152:1416-1424.
Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. Brit Med Jour. 1998;317:1341-1345.
Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et al. Dietary fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women. NEJM. 1997;337:1491-1499.
Kelloff GJ, Crowell JA, Steele VE, et al. Progress in cancer chemoprevention: development of diet-derived chemopreventive agents. J Nutr. 2000;130:467S-471S.
Kris-Etherton PM. AHA Science Advisory: monounsaturated fatty acids and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2001;2280-2284.
Kris-Etherton PM, et al. The effects of nuts on coronary heart disease risk. Nutr Rev. 2001;59:103-111.
Kris-Etherton PM, Yu-Poth S, Sabate J, et al. Nuts and their bioactive constituents: effects on serum lipids and other factors that affect disease risk. Amer J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:504S-511S.
Kris-Etherton PM, et al. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. Amer J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:1009-1015.
McManus K, Antinoro L and Sacks F. A randomized controlled trial of a moderate-fat, low-energy diet compared with a low fat, low-energy diet for weight loss in overweight adults. Int J Obes. 2001;25:1503-1511.
O’Byrne DJ, Knauff DA, Shireman RB, et al. Low-fat monounsaturated rich diets containing high-oleic peanuts improve serum lipoprotein profiles. Lipids. 1997;32:687-695.
Sabate J, Fraser G, Burke K, et al. Effect of walnuts on serum lipid levels and blood pressure in normal men. NEJM. 1993;328:603-607.
Sabate J. Nut consumption, vegetarian diets, ischemic heart disease risk, and all-cause mortality: evidence from epidemiologic studies. Amer J Clin Nutr. 1999;70 :500S-503S.
Sanders TH. Non-detectable levels of trans-fatty acids in peanut butter. J Agric Food Chem. 2001;49:2349-2351.
Sanders TH, McMichael RW, Hendrix KW. Occurrence of resveratrol in edible peanuts. J of Agric Food Chem. 2000;48:1243-1246.
Singh RB, Dubnov G, Niaz MA, et al. Effect of an Indo-Mediterranean diet on progression of coronary artery disease in high risk patients (Indo-Mediterranean Diet Heart Study): a randomised single-blind trial. Lancet. 2002;360:1455-1461.
Last reviewed April 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2011 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.