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Health Nuts: Eating Nuts May Be Healthful

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You are what you eat. You may think you are a health nut—you eat whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. However, if you avoid nuts because they are high in fat, you may not be as healthy as you can be. Nuts have traditionally received a bad reputation for their high-fat and high-calorie content, especially from people watching their weight. Yet, there are many reasons to include nuts in your diet—one of which is the very fat that made you avoid them!

Get Your Nut Nutrition

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.

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 offer benefits like a reduced risk of heart disease. Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids.

This table shows the calories, protein, and fat in a 1-ounce serving (28 grams) of nuts.

NutCaloriesProtein Total Fat
Grams(g)
Saturated Fat
Grams (g)
Monounsaturated Fat
Grams(g)
Polyunsatured Fat
Grams(g)
Almonds160614193.5
Brazil nuts190419476
Cashews160413382
Hazelnuts1803171.5132
Macadamias2002223.5170.5
Peanuts170714274
Pecans2003202126
Pine Nuts1904201.55.510
Pistachios1606131.574
Walnuts1904181.52.513

Source: Nut Health

Protein

As the above table shows, nuts are a great source of protein. Nuts are also rich in one amino acid (a building-block of protein) called arginine, which may be linked to heart health benefits.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is important for normal development of nerves and cells in the lungs and blood. Nuts like peanuts and almonds can help you to reach your dietary requirement of vitamin E.

Other Nutrients in Nuts

Nuts contain many other nutrients, such as:

  • Calcium—For example, one cup (95 grams) of almonds has 251 milligrams of calcium.
  • Selenium—Brazil nuts have an especially high amount of the mineral selenium, which acts as an antioxidant.
  • Folate—Nuts like walnuts have this B vitamin, which plays a role in reducing the risk of neural tube birth defects in babies.
  • Plant sterols—Plant sterols, found in peanuts, may help to reduce cholesterol levels.
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
  • 1/3 cup ice cream
  • 10 ounces of Fresh Samantha fruit juice smoothie
  • 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
Add Nuts to Your Diet

Nuts are easy. They do not require cooking or preparing. They are portable and even found in vending machines. And they go well with everything—from salads to desserts. Here are some ways to make your meals nuttier:

  • 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 high-fiber cereal.
  • 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. 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.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canada's Food Guide
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

References:

Arginine. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthlibrary. Updated July 2012. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Bernstein AM, Sun Q, et al. Major dietary protein sources and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Circulation. 2010;122(9):876-883.

Dreher ML. Pistachio nuts: composition and potential health benefits. Nutr Rev. 2012;70(4):234-240.

Let's go nuts. Harv Health Lett. 2011;36(3):3.

Nuts and your health. University of Nebraska Food, Nutrition & Health website. Available at: http://food.unl.edu/web/fnh/nuts-for-nutrition. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Nut health. Nut health website. Available at: http://nuthealth.org. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010;2(7):685-682.

Ros E, Tapsell LC, et al. Nuts and berries for heart health. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2010;12(6):397-406.

Sabate J, Wien M. Nuts, blood lipids and cardiovascular disease. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(1):131-136.

Walnuts and arteries. Harv Heart Lett. 2010;20(9):6.



Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, 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.

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