I love it when the research reveals big health benefits from eating my favourite foods! And I never seem be disappointed when reading the latest studies on nuts.
Nuts contain protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. You will get about 4 grams of protein in a 30 gram serve of mixed nuts. They are also an awesome source of fibre - and we NEED to make an effort to get enough fibre every day. The recommendation for women is 28 grams of fibre a day, and 38g for men. You will get about 10% of this (3g) from one 30g handful of mixed nuts. And because the healthy bacteria in our large intestine need fibre for fuel, eating nuts can help us maintain a healthy microbiome.
Different nuts contain different amounts of nutrients. Walnuts are best known for their high omega-3 content while Brazil nuts are best known for their selenium content. This is a great breakdown of the macronutrient and micronutrient profiles of nuts:
You can also download this helpful guide HERE!
And here are some of the health benefits of regular nut consumption:
Nuts and weight: Nuts are nutrient end energy dense, so some people may be tempted to cut them out when trying to drop a few kilos. Don’t! Studies have shown that people who include nuts in their diet are less likely to be overweight and obese. Nuts are highly satiating. This means they satisfy your hunger. And nut consumption has been shown to “crowd out” other less healthy food choices. There is also some evidence to suggest that in addition to their satiating effect, that not all calories from nuts are absorbed, and - interestingly - that nut consumption may regulate fat burning.
Nuts and cardiovascular health, including blood lipids and blood pressure: Regular nut consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and women seem to benefit more than men. Nut intake has been shown to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, ApoB, and triglycerides. Nut consumption is also associated with improved vasodilation (which basically means the flexibility and ability of our blood vessels and arteries to expand) and that is good news for helping to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Nuts and blood sugar control: Studies have identified an association between nut consumption and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and improvements in fasting blood sugar levels.
Nuts and brain health: What is good for your heart is generally going to be good for the brain and that is certainly the case with nuts. This is an emerging area of research, but studies are suggesting that regular nut consumption (along with a healthy overall diet!!) may improve cognitive performance in humans, perhaps forestalling or reversing the effects of neurodegeneration in ageing. Walnuts seem to be the standout superstar here, which is no surprise given their high content of omega 3 fatty acids!
OK so now we’ve gotten all excited about eating nuts, take a look again at the title of this post!
I specified a HEALTHY amount of nuts. Nuts are a food that people can go pretty nuts over (pardon the pun!). If you gorge yourself on too many nuts in one sitting you can push you into overnutrition, which places strain on our body as it struggles to deal with more nutrients than it can effectively process at one time. You can read more about overnutriton HERE!
A healthy amount of nuts is 30 grams - about a handful - a day.
And here are some other helpful tips:
Go for variety! Don't just have one type all the time. That way you will get an array of different vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and phytonutrients!
Always include Walnuts! I really can’t find a bad thing to say about those babies. There is so much quality research out there highlighting the health benefits of regular walnut consumption.
Don’t go for the super-salty deep fried stuff. It just negates the good effects.
Fresh is best baby! Especially for nuts that are rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids! Omega 3’s are so healthy for us, but they are quite unstable and can become rancid pretty quickly. So buy your walnuts from a place with a high turnover, or better still crack your own walnuts! We always have a bowl of walnuts sitting on my kitchen bench, along with the nutcracker. Once you get the hang of it, cracking nuts is pretty simple, it’s a great way to make sure you don’t go overboard with your nut consumption and trust me, you REALLY appreciate eating nuts you shell yourself!
So make sure you add a healthy handful of nuts to your diet every day, m’kay? But just remember:
No single food or nutrient is a “magic bullet”. The research in nutrition science is really starting to come together, and one of the most powerful messages from decades of scientific investigation is that it is the quality of our overall dietary pattern over many years that is the biggest determinant of our health. So definitely include a handful of nuts in your diet each day - AND also include a rainbow of healthy veggies and fruit, legumes, healthy unprocessed whole grains, and sensible amounts of healthy fats and protein too!!!!
REFERENCES for the science nerds!
- O’Neil CE et al Tree Nut consumption is associated with better adiposity measures and cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome health risk factors in U.S. Adults: NHANES 2005-2010. Nutr J. 2015 Jun 28;14:64.
- Tan SY, Dhillon J, Mattes RD. A review of the effects of nuts on appetite, food intake, metabolism, and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:412S-22S.
- Jackson CL, Hu FB. Long-term associations of nut consumption with body weight and obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:408S-11S.
- Kranz S, Hill AM, Fleming JA, Hartman TJ, West SG, Kris-Etherton PM.Nutrient displacement associated with walnut supplementation in men. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Apr;27 Suppl 2:247-54.
- Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, Fadnes LT, Boffetta P, Greenwood DC, Tonstad S, Vatten LJ, Riboli E, Norat T. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.BMC Med. 2016 Dec 5;14(1):207.
- Gopinath B, Flood VM, Burlutksy G, Mitchell P. Consumption of nuts and risk of total and cause-specific mortality over 15 years. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2015 Dec;25(12):1125-31.
- Mayhew AJ et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of nut consumption and incident risk of CVD and all-cause mortality. Br J Nutr. 2015 Nov 9:1-14.
- Del Gobbo LC et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov 11. pii: ajcn110965.
- Viguiliouk E et al. Effect of tree nuts on glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled dietary trials. PLoS One. 2014 Jul 30;9(7):e103376.
- Blanco Mejia S et al. Effect of tree nuts on metabolic syndrome criteria: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open. 2014 Jul 29;4(7):e004660.
- Pribis P, Shukitt-Hale B. Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:347S-52S.
- Barbour JA, Howe PR, Buckley JD, Bryan J, Coates AM. Nut consumption for vascular health and cognitive function. Nutr Res Rev. 2014 May 27:1-28.
- Willis LM, Bielinski DF, Fisher DR, Matthan NR, Joseph JA. Walnut Extract Inhibits LPS-induced Activation of Bv-2 Microglia via Internalization of TLR4: Possible Involvement of Phospholipase D2. Inflammation. 2010 Oct;33(5):325-33. Nutr Res. 2008;28(3):151-5.