A handful of nuts is a convenient snack -- here’s how to make the best of it by choosing the best types of nuts and the healthiest ways to eat them!
Just the Facts Most varieties of nuts are high in unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and L-arginine. They’re also high in fat and calories (lowest in calories are almonds, cashews, pistachios, while highest in calories are macademia nuts and pecans). Almonds are the nuts highest in calcium.
For Heart Health Studies including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the Physicians’ Health Study have shown a consistent 30% to 50% lower risk of myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, and cardiovascular disease associated with eating nuts several times per week.
The best nuts for your heart are walnuts. They contain high amounts of alpha linoleic acid, which has been found to be as effective as olive oil in reducing inflammation and oxidation after a fatty meal, per a 2006 Spanish study. Eating nuts has also been shown to lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in the blood and improve the health of the lining of your arteries.
Snacking Ideas Eat them raw or dry, not packaged or roasted in oil (nutrients can be destroyed by high roasting temperatures and oil used may be the unhealthy hydrogenated variety or high in omega-6 unhealthy fats.
Because of their high calorie content, you should use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats such as those in meats, eggs, and dairy. A serving is a small handful or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. And remember, you’ll cancel out the benefit of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, or salt. Try snacking on them instead of chips -- or throw them on a salad for a little crunchiness.
The Peanut Addendum Peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts. But they are healthy in their own right -- high in folate, which is essential for brain development and may protect against cognitive decline.
So don’t forget to make this healthy food group part of your diet. That’d be nuts.
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JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD, NCMP