Nuts are crunchy, a bit salty and highly addictive. So are potato chips, but when it comes to healthy nuts and potato chips they have little in common. Unlike potato chips, the health benefits of nuts make them a longevity food, right up there with veggies and olive oil. There are lots of reasons why nuts trump chips when it comes to your health.
Benefits of Nuts: A Longevity Food?
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at the impact of nut consumption on overall mortality as part of the Nurses’ Health Study, a thirty-year study involving more than 120,000 men and women. It showed nut eaters that munched on nuts daily had a 20% lower death rate. Higher nut consumption was also linked with lower death rates due to heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.
Although this is an observational study and doesn’t necessarily show cause and effect, other research supports the health and mortality-reducing benefits of eating nuts. Studies show nuts have favorable effects on lipids including cholesterol, improve insulin resistance and reduce inflammation. They also improve blood vessel function by helping blood vessels expand more easily to deliver blood and oxygen to tissues. There are lots of health benefits packed into a package of nuts!
Health Benefits of Nuts: What Makes Them So Healthy?
Some of the healthiest diets in the world emphasize and enjoy the health benefits of nuts, including the Mediterranean diet, a diet well-known for its health benefits.
Don’t Nuts Cause Weight Gain?
Despite their high-calorie content, eating nuts in moderation may help you stay trim. According to research, about 15% of the fat and calories in pistachios passes right through your body without being absorbed. About 20% of the calories in almonds never make it out of your intestinal tract. So, nuts may be lower in calories than what’s listed in the literature due to absorption issues. Plus, research shows nut eaters are less likely to gain weight over time or become obese. Other studies show nuts are linked with a reduction in waist size.
Some research suggests that the unsaturated fats in nuts increase resting energy expenditure, thereby giving your metabolism a short-term boost. In addition, nuts are rich in protein and fiber. This reduces hunger. Unlike potato chips that raise your blood sugar and lower it quickly, causing you to feel hungry, nuts help to stabilize your blood sugar level, keeping you full longer.
Ways to Get the Most Health Benefits from Nuts
Despite the fact that not all of the calories in nuts are absorbed, they’re still energy dense. A single ounce of nuts has between 160 and 200 calories and there aren’t a lot of nuts in an ounce. Resist the urge to snack on nuts directly out of the can or bag. It’s easy to lose track. Plan on eating a handful of nuts every day to enjoy the most health benefits. Put them in a dish and hide the bag so you can control the portion you’re eating. From a calorie standpoint, pistachios give you the most “bang for your buck.” There are about 47 pistachios in an ounce. Buy them in the shell and you’ll expend some energy cracking them open. Plus, it’ll slow down your pace so you don’t eat them too rapidly.
Roasted or Raw?
Are raw nuts healthier than roasted ones? Roasting not only brings out the flavor of nuts but some research shows it increases the antioxidant activity of nuts. Yes, nuts are a good source of cell-protective antioxidants. This may explain some of their health benefits. Nuts can also be a source of mycotoxins, carcinogens that can also damage your liver. Roasting reduces mycotoxins in nuts by about half.
On the plus side, if you buy your nuts in packages from reputable companies the risk of mycotoxin exposure is low. Still, it’s a good idea to know where your nuts come from because of the mycotoxin issue. Mycotoxins are more of an issue in nuts from other countries. When you get nuts from bulk bins, you don’t know where they come from and who’s handled them. Yes, people do stick their hands in the nut bins.
Other Reasons to Love the Health Benefits of Nuts
Nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that helps protect cell membranes against the damaging effects of free radical damage. Almonds are an especially good source of vitamin E. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, a trace mineral with antioxidant activity. Looking for a plant-based source of omega-3s, look no further than walnuts. Plus, walnuts may be particularly important for brain health. Some studies show walnuts boost memory and brain function. No wonder walnuts are shaped like a brain! Ever notice that?
The Bottom Line?
There are lots of reasons to love and enjoy the benefits of nuts. They’re satiating, a good source of heart-healthy fats and fiber and are linked with a lower risk for mortality. To get the most health benefits from nuts, eat a variety of them. Each nut from pistachios to pecans has a different nutritional profile and offers different health benefits. Enjoy them all!
N Engl J Med 2013; 369:2001-2011, November 21, 2013.
Am J Clin Nutr September 2003 vol. 78 no. 3 647S-650S.
Medscape Family Medicine. “Nut Consumption Linked to Lower Mortality”
PhysOrg. “Nut Roasting Benefits: Antioxidant levels of nuts increases after roasting”
Am J Clin Nutr February 2008 vol. 87 no. 2 379-384.
Prevention Magazine. “The Brain-Boosting Nut”
Related Articles By Cathe: