With all the hype over expensive, exotic juices, berries and other superfoods, it’s easy to forget that there are commonly available- and fairly inexpensive- foods you can get at any grocery store that can significantly lower your risk for getting sick.
For example, nuts.
Sure, many people think of nuts as just another “fattening” snack. But they are actually one of the most healthy foods on the planet. Several important studies (including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Physicians’ Health Study) have all shown that eating nuts several times a week lowers the risk for heart disease by a whopping 30-50%!
And the research just keeps on coming.
- A recent analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at data from 25 different nut consumption trials in 7 different countries and found that diets enriched with nuts significantly improved total and LDL-cholesterol and lowered triglycerides in those with initially high levels. (Though I’ve said many times that we worry too much about cholesterol, lowering triglycerides is really important!)
- A study last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that walnuts and fatty fish both improved serum lipid patterns, but in different ways.
- A third study, published this year in the British Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of almonds significantly improved markers of inflammation including CRP.
Nuts have a rich content of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, not to mention protein, fiber, minerals (magnesium, copper, potassium), antioxidants (vitamin E) and other nutrients like arginine. They fit into just about any diet plan, from low-carb to vegan, and are even a favorite of the raw food crowd.
The antioxidant impact of nuts arises from their rich blend of phytochemicals, including phytosterols, phenolic acids, flavonoids, stilbenes, and carotenoids. In fact, the antioxidant potency of nuts is comparable to that of tomatoes or broccoli, not exactly bad company to be in!
Pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds are especially antioxidant rich. Pecans, pistachios and walnuts are a particular source of the powerful gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E . Hazelnuts and pistachios are bursting with proanthocyanidin. Walnuts are especially endowed with plant-based omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid). And Brazil nuts are the best nut source of selenium.
And it’s not just the risk for heart disease that’s lowered by eating nuts. Studies have found evidence of a protective effect of nuts against elements of the metabolic syndrome, including glycemic response and insulin secretion. In a Harvard School of Public Health study, women who reported eating 5 or more 1 ounce servings of nuts/peanuts per week reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes by almost 30 percent compared to those who rarely or never ate nuts. Women in the study who ate five tablespoons of peanut butter each week reduced their risk for Type 2 diabetes almost 20 percent.
Nuts for weight control?
Sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health found three times as many people trying to lose weight were able to stick to a Mediterranean-style moderate-fat weight loss diet that included nuts, peanuts and peanut butter versus the traditionally recommended low-fat diet.
As long as you control total calories, eating a handful of nuts daily may help prevent weight gain and possibly promote weight loss. The fat, protein and fiber in nuts help you feel full longer, so you may eat less during the day. By helping induce a feeling of satiety, nuts may help people feel less deprived and not like they’re “dieting.” Just limit your portion to a healthy handful.