This could come as a surprise, because nuts have an undeserved reputation of being junk food, but a recent Harvard study of more than 100,000 men and women found that people who eat nuts regularly, even daily, are less likely to die from heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease compared to those who do not. The study also found nut eaters were healthier overall, with lower rates of obesity, smaller waists, and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
According to this and other studies, the following can benefit from nuts in one’s diet:
Brain function: Amino acids, vitamins and minerals found in nuts support blood flow to the brain to assist with cognitive tasks, especially as we age.
Heart health. Nuts contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, and assist with heart rhythm and blood flow.
Weight. Nuts contain high quality protein and fiber that both fill you up and keep you feeling full longer than foods without protein or fiber. This means the potential to eat less and less often.
Diabetes. Nuts have a low glycemic index, and their protein and fiber help prevent spikes in blood sugar and the crashes that often follow eating simple carbohydrates.
Diverticulosis. In the past, doctors recommended people with diverticulosis avoid nuts because it was thought they would lodge in the intestine and cause inflammation. Instead, current evidence shows the fiber in nuts helps speed digestion and keeps the intestines healthy.
Cancer and respiratory disease. Nuts are abundant in folate, niacin, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phytochemicals. These nutrients offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics.
Given all these accolades, you may be tempted to start snacking on nuts by the handful, but a word of caution: they are high in calories, so eating too many can lead to weight gain, which would just counteract all their positives. So use nuts to replace other foods and limit them to about 1 ounce per day by using these suggestions, each given in 1 ounce serving sizes:
When I was a child, we only had nuts in the house on holidays, so I will forever think of my mom’s special cookies when I taste walnuts. Perhaps you have a similar memory that you can keep alive by enjoying the taste and health benefits of nuts throughout the year.
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.