Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
By Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Specialist in Cass County, University of Missouri
Adapted by Jessica Kovarik, RD, LD, Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension
Most people think that nuts are high in calories and fat and although they may be correct, those same nut calories are loaded with nutrients. In fact, nuts in moderate amounts can make a huge difference in your health, so enjoy a handful today!
In fact, studies consistently link nuts to a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease, mostly because they lower total and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Some research has even shown that nuts may increase HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Other nutrients in nuts also have heart protective benefits. These nutrients include B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, copper, magnesium, selenium, souble fiber, arginine (an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels), sterols (which help lower cholesterol), and a variety of phytochemicals. In 2003, the FDA approved a heart health claim for seven kinds of nuts for food product lables: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nuts are also one of the best plant sources of protein. Nut butters, such as almond, cashew and peanut, are a healthier sandwich filling than full-fat cheese and some deli meats.
There is now new research that indicates eating nuts daily may serve as an effective tool in weight loss and management. Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition & Health Specialist with MU Extension shares, “The fiber and protein in nuts helps make you feel fuller longer – so you are less hungry and that means you may eat less.” Interestingly, some research has found that not all the fat in whole nuts is absorbed. Anywhere from 4 to 17% passes out of the body undigested.
“While all this is great news,” Mills-Gray states, “keep in mind that nuts are loaded with calories – even though the fat is healthy, those calories could lead to excess calorie intake. Don’t go overboard . Limit yourself to a small handful daily, and instead of simply adding nuts to your diet, eat them in replacement of saturated fat foods.” Mills-Gray also shared that consumers must watch out for the sodium in packaged nuts. Unsalted varieties are widely available.
The following is a quick assessment of the nutritional strength of popular nuts:
- Almonds – rich in vitamin E and calcium
- Brazil nuts – best dietary source of selenium; eating 3 a day provides 200 mcg, the amount found to lower risk of prostate cancer
- Cashews – rich in copper and zinc
- Peanuts – contain resveratrol, a phytochemical also found in grapes and red wine for heart health, are rich in arginine and also contain the most protein
- Walnuts – rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid
- Chestnuts – lowest in calories and contain extremely small amount of fat
For more information contact your local MU Extension Center or this faculty member directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UC Berkeley Wellness Letter May 08, Gloria Tsang, and the National Nut Council.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009