By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
Nuts have moved to the center stage of healthful eating — and for good reason. Not only does research looked kindly on nuts’ impact on health outcomes, they are tasty, nutritious, filling, and provide the crunch people like.
Here are 5 reasons nuts add up in the nutrition department, along with simple ways to add them to your diet.
1. They keep you full: According to a 2008 review of weight and nuts, there is little weight change with including nuts in one’s diet even though they are calorically dense. Scientists believe this has to do with the satiety (filling) value of nuts, as they contain, protein, fiber, and fat. There are even some studies that show that weight loss diets that include nuts have better results and compliance than those that don’t.
So, if you are avoiding nuts in favor of your waistline, don’t!
2. They are good for your heart: Nuts contain the amino acid arginine, which is involved in a process that allows blood vessels to dilate and blood to flow freely. A 2011 review in the American College of Nutrition discovered that nut consumers had lower risk factors for hypertension and HDL (good cholesterol) and tree nut consumers had a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity, hypertension, low HDL (good cholesterol), and high fasting glucose.
Which nuts are the healthiest for the heart? In 2003 the FDA approved qualified healthy claim for nuts and cardiovascular disease. The FDA approved peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts. Yet they left out Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and cashew nuts due to their fat content. But even these nuts can fit into to a healthy diet and are likely to provide some benefits.
3. They contain healthy fats: Most nuts are around 80% fat, but they contain mostly healthy fats from mono and polyunsaturated fats. Adding nuts and nut butter to sandwiches and using them as dips are great ways to balance out the diet with healthier fats that are oh, so satisfying. Watch out for nut butters that contain partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fat).
4. They boost daily nutrition: Nuts aren’t just good for your heart, they add key nutrients to the diet. While each nut has its unique nutrition profile, most contain vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, folate, fiber, and copper. According to a 2012 study in Nutrition Research, kids and adults who ate at least 1/4 ounce of nuts per day had better nutrient intake than those who didn’t.
5. They improve the taste and texture of food: Whether it’s adding nut butter as a dip for fruits, putting it on sandwiches, or adding nuts to cereal and yogurt, nuts make food taste better. How much is enough? A handful a day is what most experts recommend (1 ounce). Other ideas including making your own trail mix with dried fruit and high-fiber cereal, adding nuts to salads and stir fries, or simply grabbing a handful when afternoon hunger creeps up on you.
These are just five of many reasons to go nuts for nuts. What’s your favorite way to enjoy this nutritious food?