Nuts – you’ve just gotta love ’em. They’re the friendly food that brings you many more benefits than you expected. Be a good buddy to nuts, invite them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner and discover the tasty, healthful surprises they’ll deliver.
You may have noticed that nuts have been recently featured in countless news articles touting them as today’s health promoters. Unassuming staples of native diets for centuries, nuts are at last standing tall as the spotlight shines new information about their healthful attributes. Study after study during last fifteen years has turned up exciting and sometimes even unexpected beneficial results when nuts were included in the diet.
Studies have revealed that it only takes a handful of nuts a day for the mostly monounsaturated fats to begin lowering total cholesterol and especially the LDL cholesterol, often referred to as bad cholesterol. That handful of nuts, about one and one-half ounces, lowers the risk of heart attack and diabetes when nuts serve as the primary source of fat in the diet.
It seems surprising that such a meager amount could produce such amazing results naturally. But researchers conducting large studies such as the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Women’s Study, and the Adventist Health Study consistently found that those who ate between one and three ounces of nuts several times a week could lower their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol without lowering the HDL, or good cholesterol.
Another study revealed the ability of nuts to lower the risk for gallstones. By lowering total cholesterol, nuts assist the body in controlling how much LDL cholesterol enters the gallbladder. The less cholesterol that enters the gall bladder, the lower the risk the cholesterol will crystallize into gallstones.
The nuts tested in the studies included the familiar varieties of tree nuts: almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, and macadamias. The nuts, however, were not roasted in oil and salted. Instead, raw, unsalted nuts were the researchers’ focus. Rely on these nutritious nuts to replace a good portion of the fats in your diet, and reap the benefit of lowering your cholesterol and risk of heart attack.
Peanuts and peanut butter were also included in some of the studies. Though peanuts are actually in the legume family, they have been shown to produce similar health benefits as the tree nuts. Their primary benefit comes from their high levels of resveratrol, the same antioxidant in red wine. In fact, two ounces of peanuts contain as much resveratrol as one ounce of red wine. Many doctors recommend a glass of red wine a day for their heart patients because the antioxidants in the wine may help to reduce arterial inflammation that could possibly trigger a heart attack.
Unexpected weight loss of subjects in one of the studies proved quite surprising to the researchers. Although the subjects were consuming nuts several times a week, they did not seem to gain weight. Rather some were actually able to lose a few pounds. Researchers learned that the small amount of nuts allotted during the study was so satisfying to the participants they craved fewer of their usual high-fat snacks like potato chips.
So what is it about nuts that makes them so satisfying? It’s their impressive nutrient density. Nuts are high in protein, fiber, and minerals, and contain an average of 40 per cent of the health-promoting monounsaturated fat.
Taking a closer look at the nutritional profile of a single nut variety, raw almonds, for example, you’ll find that 3.5 ounces contain 21.3 grams of protein, 11.8 grams of fiber, 248 milligrams of calcium, 728 milligrams of potassium, 3.3 milligrams of zinc, and 261 milligrams of vitamin E. Other nut varieties are equally healthful.
Recognizing that people who ate nuts regularly had a lower risk of cardiac arrest, researchers wanted to ferret out the specific component in nuts that endows them with the ability to cut that risk. All nuts, they found, contained high levels of arginine, an amino acid that helps the body manufacture nitric oxide that relaxes and widens blood vessels.
Red meat and dairy products also contain arginine, but some nuts actually contain much more, making them a superfood. For instance, almonds, peanuts, and pine nuts boast 2.73, 2.89, and 2.10 grams of arginine respectively for 3.5 ounces. Beef cuts like top sirloin, T-bone, and rib roast don’t quite measure up, with figures of less than two grams for the same quantity. The arginine in milk doesn’t even register one gram.
Count on nuts, with their abundant supply of arginine to benefit the body by increasing blood flow and helping to unclog the arteries. This amino acid may also help to prevent deposits of cholesterol in the arteries.
Best of all, nuts are one of Mother Nature’s favorite treasures preserved for long storage in their own special protective casing where nothing unhealthful is added and nothing valuable removed.
Not only are they delicious and healthful, but nuts are also today’s ultimate convenience food. Fifty or sixty years ago it was challenging to find affordable nuts already shelled and ready to eat. Shoppers had to buy them in the shell and crack them at home. Today, shelled nuts of every variety are available in local markets.
Nuts are easy to include in your daily regimen. Add a sprinkling of chopped nuts over your breakfast cereal or dinner salad. Grind them into a powdery meal in a blender or food processor and use them to thicken soups and sauces. Add a handful of nuts to the blender when preparing a fruit smoothie. Stuff the cored center of apples with nuts and raisins and enjoy a delicious baked apple for dessert. You’ll find it’s easy to become partners in health when you make friends with nuts.
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About the Author:
Zel Allen is the author of The Nut Gourmet: Nutritious Nuts for Every Occasion and writes articles that focus on the health benefits of nuts. Zel is also co-publisher of Vegetarians in Paradise, an online vegetarian magazine www.vegparadise.com