Why Not Eating Nuts is Missing Out on Good Health

Why Not Eating Nuts is Missing Out on Good Health

Enhancing your culinary experience and promoting good health can be as simple as introducing nuts into your meals. Swap croutons for toasted pecans in your salads, mix chopped walnuts into your Saturday morning pancake batter, or infuse some peanut butter into the sauce of a vegetable stir-fry. These uncomplicated steps not only elevate the flavors of your dishes but also provide a nutritional boost.

Nuts have earned praise from nutritionists, primarily for their healthful fat profile. Varieties such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts are rich in cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats while containing lower levels of cholesterol-raising saturated fats. (It’s worth noting that peanuts, although technically legumes, share these healthful fat characteristics.)

But there’s more to nuts than their healthy fats. They are packed with dietary fiber, plant-based protein, vitamin E, as well as minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Their nutrient-rich content, along with heart-healthy fats, has led the US Food and Drug Administration to grant nuts a qualified health claim: “Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” While the wording may seem tentative, the FDA encourages daily nut consumption to support heart health.

Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “The Plant-Powered Plan to Beat Diabetes,” emphasizes that nuts are nutrient-dense foods brimming with fats that promote optimal health, especially heart health. Consuming just a handful of nuts daily can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure, and reduce inflammation, all contributing to better heart health.

So, how many nuts should you munch on to reap these heart health benefits? Approximately 1.5 ounces, which is roughly equivalent to a handful or 1/3 cup. The precise number of nuts per serving depends on the nut type, as smaller pistachios provide more nuts than larger walnut halves, for instance.

But what about other nuts that haven’t been mentioned yet? When the FDA initially issued the qualified health claim, some nut varieties, like pecans, macadamias, and cashews, were excluded due to slightly higher levels of saturated fats.

However, further research revealed that macadamia nuts are impressively high in monounsaturated fats, leading to the FDA’s approval of the health claim for macadamias in 2017. Pecans were also added to the approved list.

And what about cashews? Cashews have not received FDA approval for the health claim, even though most of the saturated fat in cashews comes from stearic acid, a fatty acid believed to have no impact on blood cholesterol. Studies have shown that cashews can even lower levels of LDL cholesterol.

More Benefits of Nuts

The evidence supporting nuts as a healthful choice continues to accumulate. The combination of protein, fiber, and healthy fats in nuts enhances satiety during meals and snacks, helping you feel fuller for longer. Nuts are considered a helpful tool for weight management, with studies demonstrating that individuals who incorporate nuts into their diets tend to have lower body weights.

Nuts may also play a role in diabetes prevention, cancer protection, and brain health. Some nuts have been associated with improved gut health, enhanced fertility, and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Furthermore, research suggests that nutrients in almonds, such as vitamin E, selenium, and zinc, promote skin health by reducing facial wrinkles and improving skin tone.

A Handful, Not a Can-Full

Despite your enthusiasm for adding more nuts to your diet, remember that current recommendations advise a handful, not a whole can. Nuts are high in fat, and therefore, high in calories.

To maximize their benefits, it’s essential to make nut consumption a long-term habit. Sharon Palmer notes that many healthy eating patterns, including the renowned Mediterranean diet, regularly incorporate nuts into their meals. Nuts have been a significant part of cultural diets for generations.

Each type of nut has its unique nutritional profile:

  • Almonds: A good source of calcium, vitamin E, and fiber, with 6 grams of protein per ounce.
  • Peanuts: Technically legumes, they offer fiber and provide more plant-based protein than tree nuts, with 7 grams of protein per ounce.
  • Pecans: High in zinc, iron, and niacin (vitamin B3), second only to almonds in vitamin E content.
  • Pistachios: The highest potassium content among nuts, known for supporting blood pressure control, along with 6 grams of protein per ounce, plus vitamin B6 and iron.
  • Walnuts: An excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, effective in reducing inflammation, and a good source of vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Mixing It Up

Rather than sticking to a single type of nut, mixing it up can ensure you benefit from the diverse nutrients that nuts offer. So, try pecans one day, walnuts the next, or opt for a package of mixed nuts.

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Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Atlantic Brief journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.