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ARE YOU NUTTY FOR NUTS?
By: Alissa Carpio
The many benefits of nuts and nut products have been known for quite some time. But why exactly are nuts so good for you? Find out what nutrients are present in nuts and how they affect your body, as well as creative and tasty ways to include them as part of your healthy diet.
Nuts are widely known for their high fat content. Most nuts contain as much as 80 percent of calories from fat. But what sets nuts apart from other high-fat foods is the type of fat present in these nutrient-rich powerhouses. Much of the fat content found in nuts is monounsaturated (MUFA). “Mono” means one, and stands for the single double-bonded carbon atom found in the fatty acid. The rest of the atoms are single-bonded. Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature, but start to harden when chilled. Olive oil is a type of this fat.
According to the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats can help reduce risk of heart disease and stroke and lower bad cholesterol. These fats are also rich in vitamin E, which is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Registered Dietitian Christie Achenbach agrees, adding that “research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.”
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), those which our body cannot make, include omega-6 and omega-3 types. Both of these EFAs are present in - you guessed it - nuts! These fats are responsible for proper cellular function, and study after study have shown them to be affective in treating many diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Omega-3, also known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), helps the body form the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids are required for proper function of the brain and nervous system, adrenal glands and eye health. Walnuts are the best nut source of ALA.
Omega-6, also referred to as linoleic acid, helps in the formation of the fatty acids GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), AA (arachidonic acid) and DGLA (dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid). These fatty acids are essential in the function of the brain and nervous system, immune system and hormone regulation, to name a few. Walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts and pecans are a few rich sources of omega-6 fatty acids. In general, dietary fat intake should still be kept in check.
Achenbach points out, “the fats in the foods you eat should not total more than 25 to 35 percent of the calories you eat in a given day and, for good health, the majority of those fats should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Be careful because too much of even ‘healthy’ foods will result in weight gain.”
Aside from the fat, nuts contain many other ingredients that are good for our bodies. They are rich in dietary fiber, which according to the National Fiber Council not only helps with satiety, but has been shown to possibly reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Fiber improves intestinal health and regularity, and can help lower cholesterol. Achenbach adds, “nuts also contain no cholesterol or sodium, and are low in saturated fatty acids, essential micronutrients (tocopherols, minerals) and other bioactive compounds, such as L-arginine, phytosterols, polyphenols and contain protein.”
Let’s not forget about that protein! Nuts are a rich plant source of protein, which not only helps to repair muscle and tissue after training, but also assists in feeling full and helping with weight control.
Nuts are also beneficial for metabolic and cognitive function. A recent study conducted by the The Journal of Proteome Research found that eating just 1 ounce of mixed nuts boosts levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is essential to many bodily functions and helps regulate metabolism, energy, mood and glucose levels. Another study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that nuts in the diet over a period of time was associated with weight loss, even more so than a diet of fruit and vegetables.
On AskDrSears.com, Dr. William Sears points out that nuts contain respectable amounts of the minerals calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. The most prominent vitamin present in nuts is vitamin E. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements notes the importance of vitamin E in controlling inflammation, boosting the immune system and possibly preventing certain diseases.
While all the information so far has been focused on nuts, it should be noted that seeds are a cousin to nuts and share many of the health-giving properties of their close relative. Delicious seeds worth mentioning include pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia, flax, sesame and poppy. Smaller seeds, such as the latter, can easily be added to fresh salads or meat and vegetable dishes, or added to baked muffins or pancakes. Pumpkin and sesame seeds can be eaten alone as a delicious snack, mixed with nuts or added to salads and yogurt. Tahini is a butter made from ground sesame seeds and is delicious in Asian-style vegetable and meat dishes or in homemade hummus. Flax and chia seeds are actually quite high in omega-3 fatty acids compared to nuts, which are typically higher in omega-6 fatty acids.
NUTS IN A NUTSHELL
Inflammation is part of the body’s normal response to infection and injury. However, excessive inflammation can contribute to a range of acute and chronic diseases. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are potentially potent anti-inflammatory agents. Other benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in some nuts and seeds. ALA is the precursor to two important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found predominately in fatty fish. ALA converts to DHA and EPA in your body. Omega-3 is essential because it cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Good nut and seed sources of alpha-linolenic acid include flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp and chia seeds.
Dietary Recommendations for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The American Heart Association asserts that a total daily intake of 1.5 to 3 g/day of ALA seems beneficial to your health.
Walnuts: 1 ounce (or ¼ cup) contains 2.6 grams of ALA
Flaxseed (Ground): 2 tablespoons contain 3.2 grams of ALA
Flaxseed (Whole): 2 tablespoons contain 4.8 grams of ALA
Hemp Seeds: 2 tablespoons contain 1.2 grams of ALA
Chia seeds: 2 tablespoons contain 4 grams of ALA
Asian-Style Peanut Sauce
½ cup natural peanut butter
3 tbsp. tahini (sesame seed butter)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 cup organic chicken or beef broth
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ cup honey
1tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. pepper
Optional: Dash of cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium stockpot over low heat. Stir gently while heating until peanut butter liquifies and all ingredients are well blended. Simmer an additional 5-10 minutes. Serve with meat, veggies or homemade spring rolls.
Honey-Maple Lemon Cookies
2½ cups almond flour (ground raw almonds)
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. lemon zest
¼ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup
4 tbsp. butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Roll batter into balls or use a 1 tbsp. cookie scoop to portion and place on greased cookie sheet. Press to flatten. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.
7 Ways To Add Some Nuts to Your Diet!
Top 9 Nuts Richest in MUFAs
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have been discussed for their incredible health properties. Here are the top nine nuts highest in this fatty acid:
2. Hazel nuts
9. Pine nuts