Because nuts are high in fat, many people still think of them as something to avoid. But nuts have gotten a bad rap. The fat they contain is mostly a combination of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, which are known to have a favorable effect on blood lipid (fat) levels. And this fat comes to us in a tasty little package that includes fiber, protein, and phytochemicals, too.
Some nuts contribute other healthful nutrients, such as:
- Plant omega-3s (found in walnuts)
- Selenium (2 tablespoons of Brazil nuts give you 4 times your daily requirement of this mineral)
- Vitamin E (found in Brazil nuts, peanuts, and almonds)
- Magnesium (found in almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and macadamia nuts)
- Folic acid (found in peanuts)
- Protein (1/4 cup of peanuts has 9 grams; 1/4 cup of Brazil nuts has 5 grams. Other nuts range from 2 to 4 grams per 1/4 cup.)
"Frequent nut consumption is associated with lower rates of coronary artery disease," says Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH, from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California. Other studies have linked nuts to overall longevity. As a baby boomer closing in on 50, that sounds pretty good to me!
Many of us know that fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, but did you know that many nuts are, too? A recent Tufts University study concluded that, in terms of antioxidant content, almonds are right up there with fruits and vegetables.
Further, nuts and seeds, as a group, are a rich source of phytosterols -- plant sterols with a chemical structure similar to cholesterol. These sterols are the key ingredient in the new cholesterol-cutting margarines, like Benecol and Take Control. Eaten in sufficient amounts, these sterols seem to do three protective things for our bodies:
- Reduce blood cholesterol.
- Enhance the immune system.
- Decrease the risk of certain cancers.
A recent analysis of 27 nut and seed products found that sesame seeds, wheat germ, pistachio nuts, and sunflower seeds had the highest concentration of phytosterols.
Nuts do contain an impressive number of fat grams, but recent studies have suggested that eating them regularly doesn't tend to increase your weight or BMI (body mass index). Preliminary data has even indicated that people on nut-rich diets seem to excrete more fat in their stools (and the more fat in your stools, the less fat is getting absorbed into the bloodstream).
You can add nuts to:
- Hot or cold breakfast cereals
- Bread recipes and muffin batters
- Trail mix or snack mixes
- Fruit crisps and cobblers
- Salads (pasta, rice, and green salads as well as fruit salads)
- Cookie and bar recipes