It’s okay to get a little nutty. In fact, it can be really good for you! Believe it or not, studies show that nuts may help you prevent diseases, live longer and even prevent weight gain!
According to a 2013 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, daily nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. “We found that people who ate nuts every day lived longer, healthier lives than people who didn’t eat nuts,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Frequent nut eaters were also less likely to gain weight. (1, 2)
Nuts are plant-based proteins that also contain fiber, heart-healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All nuts provide health benefits, although each type of nut contains a slightly different nutrient profile. The best way to reap all of the benefits is to mix up your nuts and eat a variety. Always check how the nuts are prepared though, to make sure you aren’t getting ingredients you don’t want. Here’s what you want to look for:
- Unsalted nuts
- Raw or dry-roasted nuts, not nuts cooked in oils
- No added sugars
Nuts and heart health
Nuts are filled with heart-healthy substances! The fiber, unsaturated fats and plant sterols in nuts can help lower your LDL cholesterol. The omega-3 fatty acids in nuts can help prevent heart attacks by preventing dangerous changes in heart rhythm. Vitamin E in nuts can help prevent plaque development in your arteries. Nuts also contain a substance called L-arginine that may make your artery walls more flexible and less prone to blood clots. (3)
But the calories…
Too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Before you start snacking by the handful, remind yourself: nuts are very high in calories. They are the good kind — not empty calories — but portion control is key here.
A serving is a small handful (approximately ¼ cup) of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. This will give you approximately 200 calories (varies by type of nut).
If you are watching your calories, try using nuts and nut butters as a replacement for other, less healthy foods. Use them as a substitute for saturated fats, such as butter, cheese and meat.
The combination of protein, fat and fiber in nuts makes them a filling snack or addition to your meal. Adding nuts strategically can help you feel more satisfied with your meals and snacks, so you eat less in the long run.
Try these simple strategies to make nuts part of your healthy diet:
- Add some nuts into your morning oatmeal, cereal or yogurt.
- Spread almond or peanut butter on your whole-wheat toast — in place of butter and jelly.
- Spread some nut butter on your apple or banana for a healthy, satisfying snack.
- Pre-portion some packages of nuts to keep in your car or purse for a snack on the go.
- Include peanut butter or almond butter in a smoothie for a boost of protein.
- Toss some nuts into a salad. If you’re cutting calories, skip the cheese.
- Use nuts to add extra crunch to your stir fry.
- Sprinkle sliced almonds on cooked green beans, or walnuts on carrots or brussels sprouts.
- Use chopped nuts to add a delicious coating to chicken or fish.
- Top a fruit salad with some nuts for a healthy, satisfying dessert.
Links to References and Additional Interesting Reading:
- Bao Y, et. al. Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;369:2001-2011.
- Corliss J. Eating Nuts Linked to Healthier; Longer Life. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Health Blog. Nov 20, 2013. Accessed Feb 8, 2017.
- Nuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health. Mayo Clinic Website. Accessed Feb 8, 2017. For more information on the health benefits of nuts and culinary uses for different types of nuts, check out this article: “In a Nutshell” by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.The Wonders of Nuts and Seeds, By Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 18 No. 3 P. 22