The Surprising Health Benefits of Nuts

Eating nuts regularly may be just what the Doctor ordered!

Nuts have many health benefits. Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and cashews all contain magnesium, fiber, protein, and other essential vitamins and minerals, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The fact that nuts are easy to transport and do not need refrigeration also makes them a very appealing snack for those on the go.  

Nuts can improve metabolic health!

Since nuts are a high-fat food, this might surprise you: there is good evidence that nut consumption can benefit your metabolic health and your waistline! Several studies have found measurable benefits from a daily serving of nuts to the diet. Here are some specific examples:

  • Consuming an almond-enriched diet (as opposed to a nut-free diet) produced greater losses in visceral fat tissue and greater reductions in blood pressure. Visceral adipose tissue is the body fat stored around your stomach that is most strongly related to the appearance of chronic diseases and early mortality. So greater losses of fat in that compartment appear promising.
  • Supplementing a Mediterranean diet with extra nut consumption for one year resulted in a greater reversion of metabolic syndrome than seen following a low-fat diet. Metabolic syndrome is a term that describes a cluster of symptoms (visceral adiposity, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood cholesterol, and impaired glucose metabolism).

How much should I eat? Is there a “best” type of nut?

Nuts are calorie dense, so a small serving goes a long way. Specifically, ¼ cup is a serving size, and evidence supports that this is sufficient to reduce your risk of cancers and cardiovascular disease. Any more than that serving size is likely counterproductive. Nuts contain chemicals that can irritate the GI tract, such as tannins and phytates. Further, nuts are fatty foods and high levels of any dietary fat can produce diarrhea.

The nutrient content of different species of nuts varies widely. Walnuts, for instance, contain the highest levels of the Omega-3 fatty acid Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA) of any nut – and a recent review found that dietary ALA consumption was linked to lower all-cause mortality. Almonds, in contrast, contain virtually no omega-3 fats (though almonds are loaded with magnesium, protein, and monounsaturated fat). So ideally, mix up your nuts for variety.

Alternatives for Allergies

Unfortunately nuts aren’t for everyone. Peanut and tree nut allergies are common, affecting about 1.8% of the U.S. population. Most people with peanut or tree nut allergies can consume seeds without provoking an immune response. Seeds, such as sunflower, chia, pumpkin, and flax provide an option to obtain a lot of the same nutrients that are found in nuts (magnesium, omega-3 fats). Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines provide another option to get omega-3 fats as well.  

 

  1. Tapsell, L. C., Batterham, M. J., Teuss, G., Tan, S. Y., Dalton, S., Quick, C. J., Gillen, L. J., & Charlton, K. E. (2009). Long-term effects of increased dietary polyunsaturated fat from walnuts on metabolic parameters in type II diabetes. European journal of clinical nutrition, 63(8), 1008–1015. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2009.19 
  2. Tsoukas, M. A., Ko, B. J., Witte, T. R., Dincer, F., Hardman, W. E., & Mantzoros, C. S. (2015). Dietary walnut suppression of colorectal cancer in mice: Mediation by miRNA patterns and fatty acid incorporation. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 26(7), 776–783. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.02.009 
  3. Dhillon, J., Tan, S. Y., & Mattes, R. D. (2016). Almond Consumption during Energy Restriction Lowers Truncal Fat and Blood Pressure in Compliant Overweight or Obese Adults. The Journal of nutrition, 146(12), 2513–2519. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.116.238444 
  4. Salas-Salvadó, J., Fernández-Ballart, J., Ros, E., Martínez-González, M. A., Fitó, M., Estruch, R., Corella, D., Fiol, M., Gómez-Gracia, E., Arós, F., Flores, G., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventós, R., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Bulló, M., Basora, J., Covas, M. I., & PREDIMED Study Investigators (2008). Effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts on metabolic syndrome status: one-year results of the PREDIMED randomized trial. Archives of internal medicine, 168(22), 2449–2458. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.168.22.2449 
  5. Yu, Z., Malik, V. S., Keum, N., Hu, F. B., Giovannucci, E. L., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W. C., Fuchs, C. S., & Bao, Y. (2016). Associations between nut consumption and inflammatory biomarkers. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 104(3), 722–728. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.134205 
  6. Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Quick-start guide to nuts and seeds. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/quick-start-guide-to-nuts-and-seeds 
  7. Aune D. (2019). Plant Foods, Antioxidant Biomarkers, and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and Mortality: A Review of the Evidence. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(Suppl_4), S404–S421. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz042 
  8. Naghshi, S., Aune, D., Beyene, J., Mobarak, S., Asadi, M., & Sadeghi, O. (2021). Dietary intake and biomarkers of alpha linolenic acid and risk of all cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 375, n2213. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n2213 
  9. Thomas N. M. (2021). Racial and Ethnic Data Reported for Peanut Allergy Epidemiology Do Little to Advance Its Cause, Treatment, or Prevention. Frontiers in public health, 9, 685240. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.685240 

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