Nuts are a delicious and nutritious food to include frequently in a healthy diet.
They are a source of heathy unsaturated fat, protein, fiber, magnesium and vitamin E. Health professionals recommend eating four to five servings of unsalted nuts a week.
Nuts may vary in the amount of fat they provide to your diet. Overall, most of the fat is healthy, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of monounsaturated fat followed by hazelnuts, pecans and almonds.
Walnuts provide the highest amount of polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids prevent the development of erratic heart rhythms. The unsaturated fats found in nuts help to lower the LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels in your body and improve the HDL, or good cholesterol, levels.
Studies have shown that almonds, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts may lower LDL levels while cashews and pistachios help to increase HDL levels. Walnuts both lower LDL and increase HDL levels.
Another health benefit of eating nuts is lowering and managing blood pressure, which is important in decreasing cardiovascular deaths. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts and cashews have shown this effect in research studies. Eating more nuts has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease and may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack.
The protein found in nuts helps to stabilize blood sugars, which is important for individuals with diabetes. Research has also shown that some nuts, such as pistachios and peanuts, may help to prevent type 2 diabetes. Another risk factor for type 2 diabetes is overweight and obesity. Almonds and pistachios have been linked to weight loss in recent studies. Studies on the health benefits of nuts is encouraging but more research is needed to confirm its impact on heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions.
Here are some tips on adding nuts to your diet.
• Select a variety of nuts that are unsalted and not cooked in oil.
• Avoid those flavored or honey-roasted nuts that have extra salt and maybe sugar.
• Since nuts are naturally high in calories, portion control is important. A serving is 1 1/2 ounces, which is equivalent to one palmful or 1/4 cup of most nuts. You can also weigh them to portion out serving sizes into smaller containers to make them easy to grab and go.
• Shelling nuts, like peanuts and pistachios, may help you to eat less because you get tired of shelling.
• Air-frying or toasting nuts, especially almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, in the oven gives them a stronger flavor. Try adding your own spices for different flavors.
• Read labels on nut butters to avoid those with added sugar or fat. Since nuts are high in fat, it is recommended to purchase in smaller containers to prevent them from going bad or keep nuts and natural nut butters in the refrigerator.
Lisa McCoy is a family and consumer-sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County. She can be reached at 301-791-1504, ext. 315, or by email at [email protected]