We should all be concerned about inflammation, the underlying driver behind a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. In fact, experts claim that inflammation is linked with almost every chronic health problem in some capacity. Uncontrolled inflammation damages tissues, the inner lining of blood vessels, and even the structure of cells. The inflammation we’re referring to is the low-grade type, without all the redness and pain you experience when you cut or burn yourself. In fact, this type of inflammation is often silent, although, over time, even more deadly.
When trying to tame the inflammation beast, you might direct your attention towards diet. Researchers believe that certain foods are pro-inflammatory while others fight inflammation. One food they’ve identified with anti-inflammatory activity is nuts. We know that nuts are a nutrient and energy-dense food but they’re also a source of nutrients and phytonutrients that seem to fight inflammation.
How do we know this? Several studies show that eating nuts regularly reduces markers of inflammation in the blood. One of the most recent of these studies was carried out by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They analyzed the results of a large study called the Nurses’ Health Study to look for correlations between diet and inflammatory markers. They found that subjects that ate at least five servings of nut weekly, about a handful most days, had significantly lower levels of key inflammatory markers, including IL-6 and C-reactive protein, relative to those who rarely ate nuts. In fact, C-reactive protein was as much as 20% lower in heavy nut eaters.
Although this shows a correlation between nut consumption and reduced inflammatory markers rather than causation, the results held even when they controlled for other factors that might impact inflammation such as age, gender, and other lifestyle habits. Plus, this study is in line with other studies showing a reduction in inflammatory markers in people who eat lots of nuts.
Can a Handful of Nuts a Day Fight Inflammation?
What’s so special about nuts and why are they linked with reduced inflammation? Nuts are chock full of a variety of components with biological activity. Some of these include healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytosterols, and phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight oxidative damage, the type that activates the immune system and triggers inflammation. Plus, certain vitamins found in nuts, particularly vitamin E, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
Despite the fact that all nuts appear to have anti-inflammatory activity, some might be better suited at fighting inflammation than others. Let’s look at some of the most popular nuts and how they might counter inflammation.
A study discussed on the Live Science website, emphasizes the antioxidant content of walnuts. In fact, research shows that walnuts have double the antioxidant activity of other nuts. Antioxidants fight free radicals that damage cells and trigger inflammation. Plus, you don’t need to eat a lot of walnuts to get the benefits, only about seven walnuts a day. That’s doable! You can add chopped walnuts to salads, hot cereal, or grind them up finely and sprinkle them on vegetables. The healthy fats in walnuts boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins too. Walnuts also contain the highest content of short-chain omega-3s of all nuts, a type of fat with anti-inflammatory activity.
Another popular nut is almonds. Like walnuts, almonds have antioxidant activity and most of its free radical scavenging powers are concentrated in the outer skin of an almond. So, skinless or blanched almonds have less anti-inflammatory activity. Yet, all almonds are a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin. In fact, a study of smokers found that those who consumed 3 ounces of almonds daily had lower levels of biomarkers of oxidative stress. So, munch on almonds for their antioxidant activity and for their high content of vitamin E.
Pecans are another antioxidant-rich nut. In fact, a study showed that subjects who ate pecans in quantities that made up 20% of their calories showed greater antioxidant activity in their blood. Pecans are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber – but watch out how you get them. Helping yourself to a second piece of pecan pie probably isn’t the best way to get the inflammation-vanquishing power of pecans.
What makes Brazil nuts distinctive is their high quantity of selenium, a trace mineral your body needs in small amounts. Selenium also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and is vital for healthy thyroid function. Brazil nuts are the nut most abundant in selenium and they contain one of the highest concentrations of selenium of any food. In fact, you can meet your body’s selenium needs by eating only 1 or 2 Brazil nuts daily. However, Brazil nuts vary widely with regard to how much selenium they contain depending on the soil they were grown in. Selenium is a mineral you should always get from food as opposed to supplement since you can get TOO much selenium. So, Brazil nuts are your secret source of selenium.
Pistachios are a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants important for eye health. Studies show that these compounds deposit in the retina, the light-sensitive portion of your eye, and absorb ultraviolet light that could damage your vision. In fact, pistachios have 13-fold the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin as the next highest nut. Like other nuts, pistachios are heart healthy as they reduce oxidation of LDL-cholesterol and help lower blood pressure.
Macadamia nuts have antioxidant activity and they’re also the richest sources of monounsaturated fats, the same type of fat you find in olive oil. Monounsaturated fats are believed to be heart healthy as they’re relatively stable and have favorable effects on blood lipids. You can buy them loose or in the shell. Of course, you’ll need a nutcracker with a vise grip if you choose the latter.
The Bottom Line
Yes, nuts do fight inflammation and they each have their own special benefits. To get the benefits of all, enjoy mixed nuts as an alternative to processed carb snacks, like chips. Your body will thank you!
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