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Nuts are chocked full of healthy nutrients. Knowing how to make them part of your diet can help you reap all kinds of health benefits.

For years, savvy dieters have shunned nuts because of their high-fat content. But dieters can rejoice. The heart-healthy fats, high fiber, and phytochemical content of nuts have catapulted these nutritious nuggets into health food heaven. The key is portion control.

Over the past several years, numerous studies have shown the healthful nature of nuts. Nuts are a powerhouse of good nutrition, packed with protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, and antioxidants. Although they are high in fat, it's unsaturated heart-healthy fats. Studies show that diets that contain nuts help reduce the risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and help control weight.

Good Fats

Bad fats that pose health problems come primarily from saturated and trans fats, neither of which are found in most nuts. Instead, most nuts are loaded with good fats: -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some nuts, such as walnuts, boast a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, similar to salmon.

In July 2003, the FDA approved the first qualified health claim. Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease, the FDA says.

Packaging for walnuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios can now proudly make this claim. Cashews and macadamia nuts did not qualify for the health claim due to their higher fat content.

Pump Up the Heart

The healthy fats appear to be the secret nut ingredient that prevents heart disease. Adding to the power of the heart-healthy fats, the fiber in nuts has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

"Our epidemiological studies have shown eating about one ounce of nuts every day will reduce the risk of heart disease in the long run by 30%," Frank Hu, MD, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Nuts can also help lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and raise HDL "good" cholesterol. "Almost all types of nuts have high amounts of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and when you substitute this kind of good fat for carbohydrates and saturated fat, your LDL will go down," Hu said.

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