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Go nuts for your health

I have fond memories of nuts—not the “crazy” folks in my life, the edible kind. Nuts are sprinkled liberally throughout my past and I still enjoy them nearly every day. As a kid, I sometimes snuck peanut butter by the spoonful.

For my birthday, I’d always request German Chocolate Cake, which has pecans in the frosting. As an adult, my on-the-go snack of choice is Kar’s Unsalted Raisin Almond Cashew Mix. And I‘ve always wanted to roast chestnuts on an open fire . . . well, that’s something I can look forward to.

Health benefits

Nuts, in moderation, offer an array of health benefits. They’re a nutrient-rich food, packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats (both healthy fats).

Different types of nuts have different nutrient profiles and health benefits, so eating a variety of nuts can improve overall diet quality and health.

Heart health

The research related to nuts and heart health was strong enough to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a qualified health claim allowing manufacturers to print this statement on packages of peanuts and most tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts): “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.”

Nuts and cholesterol

Several studies show that nuts have powerful cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering effects. In fact, including nuts, such as almonds, in a heart-healthy diet has been shown to rival the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications. Walnuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, lower triglycerides (a type of fat in the bloodstream) and total cholesterol.

Research also indicates that walnuts may increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) and lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Pecans, as a part of a heart-healthy diet, have been shown to raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Eating nuts, especially tree nuts, may decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of factors that may lead to coronary artery disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

Enjoying nuts may also help maintain a healthy weight. The protein, fat and fiber in nuts are very filling which may help curb overeating. In fact, research shows that eating nuts is associated with lower body weight.

Enjoy a small handful of nuts as a snack or add to your favorite foods:

  • Stir ground nuts into pancake, waffle or muffin batter.
  • Use finely ground nuts to coat chicken or fish before baking.
  • Sprinkle nuts on yogurt, oatmeal, salads or steamed vegetables.
  • Spread peanut butter on apple slices or celery sticks.
  • To intensify their flavor, toast nuts in a dry skillet or bake them for five to 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Bonfire anyone? I’ll bring the chestnuts.

For more information and delicious recipes, visit the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation’s website: NutHealth.org

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Karen Giles-Smith is a registered dietitian, freelance writer and health/wellness coach based in Mason, Michigan. For more, visit TheWellnessWriter.com and AtEaseWithEating.com.

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