by Kimberly Allem, RN
Not too long ago nuts were treated like the perrana’s of snack foods. The number one complaint was “they’re loaded with fat” and we were told all fat is bad for our heart and contributes to weight gain. While it is true that nuts are high in fat, it’s the type of fat they contain that makes them so valuable. Nuts are an excellent example of good things coming in small packages. Nuts are one of the most nutrient packed foods we have. They are full of vitamins and minerals as well as protein and healthy fats. While all nuts are not created equal experts now agree that by adding any type of nut to your diet can help you manage heart disease. The type of fat in nuts is known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, these are healthy fats that can lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and reduces the development of blood clots which in turn reduces your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The “good” fats in nuts also help improve the lining of your artery walls as well.
So why are nut’s so heart healthy? In addition to the mono and polyunsaturated fats they also contain a significant amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. These acids help prevent irregular heart rhythms that can cause heart attacks. Though omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in fish they are among the best when it comes to plant sources of the omega-3 fatty acids. Also, all nuts have fiber which also helps lower your cholesterol levels and has also been shown to help prevent diabetes. Nuts also contain vitamin E which in addition to other things helps prevent plaque from developing in your arteries along with L-arginine which has been shown to improve your artery walls. Plant sterols which can also help lower your cholesterol can also be found in most nuts.
Another thing people don’t realize is that nuts can also help you to lose and/or maintain your weight. Yes, they do have quite a few calories but the calories are from healthy fats. These healthy fats give you a feeling of being full. They are also loaded with fiber which makes you continue to feel full longer. Another thing research has shown is that nuts speed up metabolism. When you eat them your body uses more energy which burns more fat. Then if you add exercise, especially muscle building you burn even more fat. The important thing to remember is the same as with anything else, moderation. Since they do contain a significant amount of calories so limit your consumption to one or two ounces a day.
So which nuts are best? Well, most nuts are considered generally healthy, however not all have the same amount of nutrients. Walnuts are called the “King” of nuts. Walnuts contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids as well as significant amounts of alpha linoleic acid or ALA which research indicates it not only prevents heart dysrhythmias but also is a “effective as olive oil at reducing oxidation and inflammation after eating a meal high in fat. Fourteen walnut halves have 4gms of protein, 18gms of fat and 185 calories, remember the fats may be “good” fats but too much of a good thing can lead to other problems like weight gain. If you are trying to lose weight almonds are the lowest in calories, but cashews and pistachio’s are also lower in calories. However,they all contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein and fiber. Always use raw or dry roasted nuts, never eat nuts roasted in oil or at high temperatures which can destroy their nutrients. It’s also important to avoid nuts that are in tubs. Because nuts have a high fat content they should be kept in a cool dry place, they keep very well in the refrigerator.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.