Some foods are “genius foods” in terms of nutrition, and one of the smartest foods around is nuts. All nuts! Nuts are a ‘combination food’ — they’re a good source of the three major nutrients — protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats — plus they contain micronutrients — minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, all in one nugget.
Nuts = Health
In 2013 the New England Journal of Medicine detailed findings from two major research studies of more than 170,000 participants. The findings: eating nuts makes you live longer.
Over a 30-year period, people who consumed nuts almost daily lowered their risk of dying by about 20 percent compared to people who never ate nuts.
Those who ate nuts seven or more times weekly had a 29 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease — and an 11 percent lower risk from dying from cancer!
A study published in the journal Circulation concluded that eating nuts may reduce cardiovascular disease for people with diabetes. In this self-reported study, those people with type 2 diabetes who ate five servings of nuts weekly lowered their risk for heart disease by 17 percent.
Of course, statisticians will note that observational nutritional studies are notoriously difficult to duplicate, but it certainly provides food for thought!
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a qualified health claim for several varieties of nuts. The claim is qualified by saying that eating 1.5 ounces daily and at the same time eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol “may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Of course, if you have a junk-food diet and smoke, just adding nuts to your diet won’t get you the same results.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition details that nuts may lower inflammation, a condition that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses. While the research is ongoing, the scientists note that nuts are fiber, magnesium, antioxidants and other health-boosting ingredients. Read more here.
Most clinical studies are on almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and peanuts, but there is ongoing research on other varieties, for example, macadamia nuts.
How can high-fat nuts fit into your diet if you’re watching your weight?
All fat is equal in terms of calories — fats have 9 calories per gram, more than double the calories of protein and carbohydrate, which have 4 calories per gram, so serving size counts.
And research shows that by changing the way you eat those nuts you can have your cake and eat it too!
Information from the Pistachio Health Institute cited two preliminary behavioral nutrition studies from Eastern Illinois University.
The first study tested the theory that you may be able to fool yourself that you’re full by watching what you eat — literally. It’s easy to grab a handful of nuts and chomp them down, but what happens when you have to take the time to shell those little nuggets of nutrition?
In one experiment, the nut eaters were satisfied with less because it took them longer to eat. Those who had to manually peel the shells from their nuts ate 41 percent fewer calories compared to snacking on pre-shelled pistachios.
In the second experiment, student participants who left pistachio shells behind on their desks as they were noshing reduced their calorie consumption by 18 percent compared to participants whose discarded shells were routinely removed throughout the day.
This proves my frequent advice, “out of sight, out of mouth.” Those empty pistachio shells may have helped them eat less by acting as a “visual cue” to remind them how many they’d eaten. Thirty whole pistachio kernels contain only about 100 calories.
On average, an ounce of shelled nuts ranges from a “skinny” 159 calories for pistachios (approximately 49 kernels) to 196 calories for pecans (approximately 19 halves).
A bonus: the protein and healthy fat from nuts can help you feel fuller longer
Low fat is out of favor. It seemed reasonable to think that since fat is the most caloric nutrient, cutting back on all fat was the best solution for weight loss. However as far back as 2008 researchers looked at three weight-loss strategies: a low-carbohydrate; a low-fat diet; and a Mediterranean-type eating plan. The results: all diets work (we know that) but the ‘diet’ rich in plant and some animal fats including nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil — also known as the ‘Mediterranean-type’ eating plan — was more effective for weight loss compared to the other two diets.
Nuts are especially satiating, having a perfect combination of fat, protein, and fiber.
Nuts and Nutrition
The Harvard School of Public Health writes that nuts are a good source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber.
Almonds are a good source of calcium.
Pecans contain a plant sterol recommended for prostate health.
Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a mineral that has antioxidant properties and may help protect cells from damage.
Peanuts are rich in folate, a vitamin crucial to human growth. By the way, ‘tree nuts’ are botanically considered drupes, and peanuts are legumes, and grow underground, as opposed to tree nuts. Peanuts provide the best source of concentrated protein in the plant kingdom, more than seven grams per ounce.
Pistachios have as much potassium as half a large banana in only one ounce.
Macadamia nuts have just about more fat than any other type of nut, but like all nuts, the fat is mostly monounsaturated, contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, plus they’re also high in selenium, copper, iron and magnesium. Macadamia oil has a higher smoke point than most other nut oils.
Walnuts are rich in arginine (an amino acid that is linked to heart health), vitamin E, folic acid and potassium.
And what about coconuts? A coconut is a one-seeded drupe, like an olive, almond or apricot and is classified as a fruit of a tropical palm tree. Chestnuts are true nuts, but very different from other nuts, and contain very little protein or fat and are mostly starch.
What’s the Best Nut?
So, which nuts should you favor? Hmm… there really doesn’t appear to be a top nut! Whether you opt for almonds, walnuts or pistachios, it seems you’ll lower your risk of dying sooner if you make them a part of your otherwise healthy diet. That’s to say, eating a serving of nuts daily won’t outdo that daily mochaccino or hamburguesa con queso.
In a nutshell
- All nuts are naturally cholesterol-free and very low in saturated fat and sodium.
- Nuts contain protein, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and fiber.
- Nuts are rich in immunity-promoting phytochemicals, which are important in preventing heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.
Eat your favorite nuts raw, roasted, or “naked” — they’re all nuggets of good nutrition. Although they’re somewhat pricey, especially in a non- tree-nut-growing region such as Ecuador, a little goes a long way. Remember, one serving is only about 1 ½ oz. but if they’re drenched in oil, or coated with chocolate, the nutritional benefits are outweighed by excess fat and sugar.
And as with all fruits and vegetables, nuts are best purchased organic or grown without the use of pesticide and herbicides, if you can find them. If you’re living in the USA, the USDA 100% Organic certification is somewhat reliable. An article in Livestrong.com notes that in the States, almonds, pistachios, and peanuts are best bought organic because of pesticide levels. In Ecuador, it appears that most nuts are imported from other South American countries. I’ve bought pistachios (in the shell), and shelled almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews here in Cuenca, in various mercados and Supermaxi, both shelled and in-the-shell. The only nut that I cannot find in Cuenca is my favorite, peanuts…IN the shell. I’ve heard that you can buy them on the coast, however. There are plenty of shelled mani everywhere, but if you have a local source for mani con cáscara, please post in the comments below.
Practice your español en los mercados. Shelled mani (peanuts) are plentiful. Me gustaría algunas nueces, por favor – (I would like some walnuts, please) or almonds (almendras). Click here to learn more.
As always, please feel free to share your favorite local vendors and your purchasing tips in the comments below.
Postscript: a reader wrote to ask me about making my own nut butter. I haven’t tried yet, but for a nice recipe – click here.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Associations between nut consumption and inflammatory biomarkers.
Livestrong.com. Which nuts & seeds to buy organic?
MayoClinic.org. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health.
NEJM.org. Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality.
Spanishexperts.blogspot.com. Food vocabulary: cereals, beans, nuts, and other seeds.
The Journal of Nutrition. Tree nuts and peanuts as components of a healthy diet.
TheSpruceEats.com. Nut Nutrition Comparison Chart
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Qualified Health Claims: Letter of Enforcement Discretion – Nuts and Coronary Heart Disease.
Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist Susan Burke March moved to Cuenca after 35 years as a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the United States. She currently serves as the Country Representative from Ecuador for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan helps people attain better weight and health, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions that can be improved with smart lifestyle modifications.
Susan is offering “Free” 20-minute consultations for just a $15 donation to one of the important foundations here in Cuenca. It’s a perfect time to address issues such as cooking at home, strategies for weight loss, or boosting your immunity by improving your diet.
Contact her at SusantheDietitian@gmail.com