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Cancer, cholesterol, heart health: Why you must eat NUTS

Last updated on: October 11, 2012 20:02 IST

Cancer, cholesterol, heart health: Why you must eat NUTS

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Courtesy HealthCareMagic.com

They are tasty, they are calorie-rich, and they are good for your heart. Doesn't that sound contradictory and too good to be true? Well, think again. We're talking about nuts!

Most nuts including walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios have been shown to have many health benefits when consumed in moderation.

Walnuts are a particularly rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and may be better at lowering cholesterol as compared to other nuts. The FDA has approved the heart health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pignola pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Brazil nuts are very rich in selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralise harmful free radicals. In a recent study they were shown to lower the risk of breast cancer.

Now we know you have a lot of questions about the health benefits of nuts. Let us see if we can answer all your queries:

How many nuts should I have in a day?

Having one to two ounces (30 to 60 grams) of nuts everyday is enough to give you all their health benefits.

About how much is one ounce of nuts?

  • Walnuts: 8-11 halves
  • Almonds: 18-20
  • Pecans: 18-20 halves
  • Hazelnuts: 18-10
  • Pistachios: 45-47
  • Peanuts: 28-30

In general, a handful is a good estimate of the amount that you should have in a day.


Image: Most nuts including walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios have been shown to have many health benefits when consumed in moderation
Photographs: User:Melchoir/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: FDA , NUTS , Brazil

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What about the calories?

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Nuts are indeed calorie-rich. Having 30 to 60 gms of nuts will add about 180 to 360 calories to your diet. You can keep your total calorie consumption in check by having nuts in place of some other high-calorie item in your diet. For instance, snack on nuts instead of cookies, or add walnuts instead of cheese to your salad.

What if I am trying to lose weight?

There is a very good chance that you will lose weight in spite of adding nuts to your diet. Since nuts are calorie-rich, they will reduce your craving for other fatty food items and make you stick to your diet plan more consistently. In the Harvard's Nurses' Health Study, women who consumed nuts regularly were generally thinner than those who didn't.

What does the US Food and Drug Administration say about the health benefits of nuts?

The US FDA has evaluated the effect of nuts on heart disease. In 2003, the FDA approved the following claim for nuts:

"Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."


Image: Add walnuts instead of cheese to your salad
Photographs: Nillerdk/Wikimedia Commons

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Which nuts are the best for health?

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Most commonly consumed nuts are beneficial for your health. In scientific studies, the participants had walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, and pistachio nuts. Some notable points about different nuts are as follows:

  • Walnuts are a particularly rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and may be better at lowering cholesterol as compared to other nuts.
  • Though peanuts are not exactly a nut (they are a legume), they are as good as nuts for lowering the risk of heart disease.
  • The FDA has approved heart health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pignola pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts as these nuts contain less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g.
  • The FDA has not approved heart health claims for Brazil nuts, macadamias, cashews, and pinyon pine nuts as they are high in saturated fats. Coconuts are also high in saturated fats and should probably be avoided.
  • Brazil nuts are very rich in selenium, a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralise harmful free radicals. In a recent study they were shown to lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Pistachios are rich in iron, protein, fibre and have high levels of magnesium, which helps control blood pressure
  • Hazelnuts are one of the richest sources of the antioxidant Vitamin E.
  • Cashew nuts are a rich source of iron, which is needed to make haemoglobin.
  • Chestnuts are low in fat, but they have not been studied in large scientific studies.
  • The best approach would be to eat a mix of nuts, rather than limiting yourself to one or two types.

Image: Though peanuts are not exactly a nut (they are a legume), they are as good as nuts for lowering the risk of heart disease
Photographs: Texnik/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: FDA , Cashew , Brazil , Vitamin

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What is it in nuts that makes them good for health?

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One of the important reasons why nuts are good for health is that they are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and contain naturally occurring cholesterol-lowering compounds called plant sterols. Nuts are also one of the best plant sources of protein besides being rich in fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium. Nuts also contain folic acid, copper, magnesium and the amino acid arginine.

Which studies have shown that nuts are beneficial?

Some of the important studies that showed the beneficial effect of nuts are:

  • Adventist health study: This was a large study, comprising 31,000 white Californian Seventh Day Adventists. It reported that those having nuts daily had up to 60 per cent fewer heart attacks than those who ate nuts less than once per month.
  • The Iowa Women's Healthy Study: Women who ate nuts less than four times a week were 40 per cent less likely to die of heart disease.
  • Harvard's Nurses' Health Study: Women who had at least five ounces of nuts per week were 35 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease, compared to those who had less than one ounce of nuts in a month.
  • The Physician's Health Study: Men who had nuts twice or more per week had reduced risks of sudden cardiac death.

What exactly are the health benefits of eating nuts?

The most studied and hence, well-defined benefits of nuts are:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower the risk of heart disease

Some other possible health benefits of nuts are:

  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Protection against dementia
  • Lower risk of certain cancers
  • Lower risk of gallstones

Image: Nuts like almonds are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and contain naturally occurring cholesterol-lowering compounds called plant sterols
Photographs: Sanjay Acharya/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Harvard

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Any suggestions for incorporating nuts in my diet?

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  • Add nuts to your breakfast cereal.
  • Add nuts in your salad or pasta in place of meat or cheese.
  • Season your food with crushed nuts rather than butter or cheese.
  • Snack on nuts in place of cookies, pastries and other refined foods.
  • Use home-made peanut butter instead of regular butter or mayonnaise.

Is it okay to have salted and fried nuts?

No, it's not really a healthy choice to have salted and fried nuts. Try to stick to low-salt or unsalted varieties and dry-roasted or raw nuts.

Are nuts good for everyone?

Yes, the health benefits of nuts have been observed in people from all age groups and races. However, some individuals are allergic to nuts and must avoid consuming them. The British Nutrition Foundation advises that people with a family history of nut allergies should avoid nuts during pregnancy and should not give them to their children in their early years.


Image: Use home-made peanut butter instead of regular butter or mayonnaise
Photographs: freestock.ca/Wikimedia Commons

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