A handful of nuts a day might keep the doctor away. Recent nutritional studies released in the Journal the American Medical Association and other reputed publications, found that eating nuts regularly has a multitude of beneficial effects on health including lowering the risk of developing heart disease (1), type 2 diabetes, dementia, stroke, and gallstones. Other studies claim that it reduces the risk of heart disease by 30-50 percent, as well as reducing the risk of dying of sudden cardiac death arrest. Nuts also protect against diabetes type 2 .
We all know nuts are calorific, with an average of 200 calories per 30 grams, and we could be forgiven for thinking they are fattening. However, contrary to that popular belief, nuts have actually been found to help regulate body weight, not to increase it, by satisfying hunger pangs and warding off eating other more unhealthy foods, according to a study in the European Journal of Nutrition. How many nuts one should eat can be a point of contention, as eating too much is all too easy to do. The mentioned study suggests that 30-60 grams of nuts per day are sufficient to reap the benefits.
Nuts are very high in unsaturated fatty acids, omega 3 or the ‘good fats’ which protect against heart disease and are very low in saturated fatty acids; which may explain some of their beneficial effects on reducing heart disease. Nuts are energy dense foods, being one of the best plant sources of protein, high in fiber, phytonutrients and loaded with antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium. Nuts also contain arginine, an amino acid that can help overcome impotence, boost immunity and lower high blood pressure levels.
Although which nuts are best to eat is still under research, in 2003 the Federal Drug Administration of the US released a statement condoning eating almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts to possibly reduce the risk of heart disease, as they contain less than 4g of saturated fats per 50g.
However each nut has specific benefits, and eating a broad range of nuts would be your best bet to stay healthy. Walnuts are a particular must as they contain significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids as compared to other nuts which are good for your heart, joints and brain function and, like almonds and pecans, contain tryptophan – an amino acid that stimulates the production of serotonin in your brain, a feel good hormone which can help protect against depression.
Peanuts, probably the most commonly found nut, are an excellent source of B vitamins, including folate, riboflavin and niacin, all of which are important for metabolism and growth, as their deficiency can cause muscle degradation and fatigue. Brazil nuts are high in selenium, an anti-cancer agent, and have recently been shown to prevent breast cancer. Pistachios, another common nut especially in the Middle East, are high in iron, protein and fibre content and magnesium, which helps control blood pressure. Hazelnuts are one of the richest sources of the antioxidant vitamin E; and cashew nuts are very rich in iron.
Although the benefits of nuts are vast, you should bear in mind some cautionary measures when eating them. Nuts should ultimately be eaten unsalted, as too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which would negate the beneficial nutty effects on the heart. Eating old nuts is not recommended as one of the most toxic substances known to man, aflatoxin, is a fungus found in ‘off nuts’. Nuts should not be given to small children as they can lead to choking; and finally, around one percent of people are allergic to nuts, and should avoid them altogether. Dr May Meleigyholds a Ph.D in Immunology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as an MSc. (Toxicology/pathology) and a B.Sc in pharmacology) from London University. May is a freelance medical/health writer and is currently producing Health Education programs for Egyptian TV.