Nuts are a crunchy, heart-healthy snack and one of the more nutrient-dense foods you can pack into a snack bowl. In fact, nuts are chock full of slowly-absorbed carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, including trace minerals that most of us don’t get enough of in our diet. Plus, nuts are an under-appreciated source of antioxidants, compounds that help fight oxidative stress and inflammation. As such, nuts of all types are a healthy addition to your diet – and they come in so many varieties – from walnuts to hazelnuts. Here are six interesting facts you might not know about this healthy snack food.
Nuts Are Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation plays a role in a variety of disease states, including cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, chronic infections, and even cancer. That’s why you hear so much these days about eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Nuts are one of the few foods that measurably reduce markers of inflammation. Studies show that frequent nut consumption is linked with lower levels of two key inflammatory markers, IL-6 and C-reactive protein. This may explain why munching on nuts is correlated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In one study of over 34,000 Seventh-Day Adventists, participants who ate nuts 5+ days of the week had half the incidence of heart attack as those who only ate these crunchy orbs only on occasion.
Eat Your Almonds with the Skins Intact
Are almonds your favorite snack nut? You can buy them with the skin or blanched almonds that are skinless. Go for the skins! The skin or outer covering is where much of the fiber and antioxidants reside. Plus, research shows the skins have prebiotic potential, meaning they help feed and cultivate probiotic bacteria that help keep your gut microbiome healthy. Most of the antioxidants in almonds are in the outer skin as well. Blanched almonds are still a good source of healthy fats, vitamin E, and minerals, but you’ll miss out on the extra fiber and antioxidant activity that almonds offer if you buy them without the skins.
Peanuts Aren’t a Nut, but They’re Still a Healthy Snack
Peanuts aren’t a tree nut, like other nutty favorites such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, and Brazil nuts. Rather, peanuts are a legume, in the same family as beans and lentils. However, peanuts, too, are linked with cardiovascular benefits. It’s a good thing because peanuts are the most popular “nut,” thanks to their ready availability and less expensive price. Unfortunately, peanut allergies are rather common and can be deadly for people who accidentally consume even a trace amount. If you’re not allergic to peanuts, enjoy them in moderation!
Macadamia Nuts Are the Richest Source of Monounsaturated Fat
Macadamia nuts are the nut riches in monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are a type of heart-healthy fat as they have favorable effects on blood lipids. In fact, these fats are the same ones you find in olive oil and avocados. Macadamias are also a good source of flavonoids, compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Munch on them as a snack, but don’t offer one to Rover or any other four-legged friend. Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.
Nuts Are Linked with a Healthier Body Composition
You might think that nuts, being a calorie-dense food, would contribute to weight gain since a handful of nuts can have up to 200 calories. However, research shows otherwise. In one study, researchers from Loma Linda University tracked the eating and lifestyle habits of 373,00 people from 10 countries across Europe. They found that over a 5-year period, participants who snacked on the most nuts experienced the least weight gain.
Why might this be? It could be because nuts are a satiating snack, but other research shows we don’t absorb all the fat in nuts. In fact, A study conducted by USDA showed that only about 75% of the calories in almonds are absorbed. So, when you munch on nuts, a portion of the calorie-dense fat is eliminated from your body rather than absorbed. Who doesn’t like free calories? Chewing nuts thoroughly also seems to boost the amount of fat and calories you absorb. One study showed that less fat was excreted when participants chewed almonds thoroughly.
Brazil Nuts Support Healthy Thyroid Function
Your thyroid gland needs a trace mineral called selenium to produce active thyroid hormone. Unfortunately, the soil in certain areas is rapidly becoming depleted of selenium and deficiency may be more common than we think. Brazil nuts to the rescue! Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium. Being such a concentrated source, you can meet your body’s selenium requirements by eating only one or two Brazil nuts each day. In fact, due to the variability in selenium content of Brazil nuts, you can actually get too much of this trace mineral if you binge eat Brazil nuts.
Hopefully, you now have more reasons to add nuts to your diet. You might have a favorite type of nuts, but eating a variety is even better as each nut has its own unique health benefits. Even though snacking on nuts is linked with less weight gain and a healthier body composition, they can be hard to stop eating! So, set aside a handful and snack on them slowly and mindfully. Keep the tin or package they came in out of reach, so you can control how many you eat. When you compare nuts to other salty, crunchy snacks, like chips, nuts are a clear winner. Nut eating is even linked with lower mortality from heart disease and all causes. If you don’t like them as a snack, you can also enjoy their benefits by sprinkling them into salads and hot cereal in the morning. It’s a great way to boost the nutrient density of what you eat!
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Loma Linda University. “The Adventist Health Study: Findings for Nuts”
Science Daily. “Eating nuts can reduce weight gain, study finds”
Berkeley Wellness. “Are Nut Calorie Counts Wrong?”