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Nuts are good for you

Time to go nuts

It really wasn’t that long ago that people were being advised to watch their consumption of nuts. We were told nuts were high in fat and to eat them with care.

What a turn around! This month the media is full of stories about how nuts are essential to a good diet and overall health.

Certainly some nuts, such as Brazil nuts, macadamias and cashews have high levels of high saturated fat content (walnuts, pecans and pistachios have lower levels and hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts are much lower in saturated fat). But according to recent reports, these aspects need to be taken in context with the small amounts in the nuts and the high level of other key nutrients that can go a long way to help us maintain maximum health.

In fact, a new study at Maastricht University in Holland says that just half a handful of nuts a day can cut your risk of dying from many major diseases. The researchers found that just 10 grams of nuts a day can lower your risk of dying from cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes.

The study is no lightweight report, it covers more than 120,000 men and women aged between 55 and 69 and ran for nearly 30 years. The results showed a definite link between nut intake and cardiovascular death; this tallied with earlier results from similar American and Asian studies.

The leader of the study, Professor Piet van den Brandt, said nuts contain a wide range of various compounds such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids plus various vitamins, fibre, antioxidants and other bioactive compounds which could contribute to the lower death rates.

Interestingly he did say that the adverse health effects of salt and the trans fatty acids in peanuts could inhibit the protective benefits from these specific nuts. Peanut butter is not included in the study as it includes so many additional ingredients.

When you look at specific nuts, it becomes clear why they can offer real health benefits. Most nuts contain some basic benefits such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fibre. However, certain nuts also contain additional specific benefits.

Walnuts contain high amounts of alpha linoleic acid which may assist heart arrhythmias. Spanish researchers found that walnuts may be as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a fatty meal.

Hazelnuts are an especially good source of folate; this plays a key role in keeping the amino acid of homocysteine in control (associated with certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease).

Madadamias are high in fat, but they are also a good source of fibre plus minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium.

Pecans are a great nut, packed with plant sterols which may help lower cholesterol levels. They are antioxidant-rich which can help prevent plaque formation (contributing to hardening of the arteries) and are also full of oleic acid and vitamin B3, a great addition to help fight tiredness.
Pistachio nuts are particularly rich in vitamin B6 which is key in keeping hormones balanced. They also contain reasonable levels of lutein and zeaxanthin which are important to help eyes maintain their health plus they contain potassium and fibre.

Brazil nuts are packed full of selenium; an important mineral that is thought to help protect against prostate cancer and other diseases. However, be aware that too much selenium can be linked to diabetes.

Peanuts are slightly different because they are actually classed as legumes. But for most of us, we just consider them another nut and they are good in that, like hazelnuts, they contain high levels of folate, a mineral that is essential for brain development and may offer protection against cognitive decline.

Almonds are high in vitamin E which can help the condition and appearance of skin plus they are rich in calcium, essential for bone building. The skin of an almond is also full of flavonoids, so it is worth eating them whole.

Cashews contain good levels of protein and also key minerals such as iron and zinc. They also contain very good levels of magnesium which some reports say can improve recall and delay age-related memory loss.

Today some experts are suggesting half a handful of mixed nuts a day can be a really key addition to a normal diet; but nuts can add to calories, so people on restricted diets need to be aware. As a general guide, for 100 grams of each nut, the calorie count is:

Walnuts 654
Hazelnuts 626
Macadamias 718
Pecans 691
Pistachios 557
Brazils 656
Peanuts 567
Almonds 575
Cashews 554

Really the new research has only helped to prove that that old adage – of eating small amounts of a wide mix of healthy foods – is probably still one of the best ways to ensure a good diet.

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