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Why We're Nuts About Nuts!
Nuts are a delicious and nutritious snack as well as an important ingredient to many dishes. Nuts can be roasted, salted, flavored, tossed in salads, baked in breads, mixed in pastas, or otherwise eaten raw! Once pegged as a high fat and calorically dense food group that we should stay away from, nuts are now embraced and considered highly advantageous to our health. Nuts range between about 160 to 200 calories per 1 ounce serving (about a small handful), making the caloric differences pretty negligible.
The health benefits of nuts are numerous! Contrary to popular belief, dietary fat is not bad. In fact, our bodies need some fat from the diet in order to function properly. Fat protects and insulates our organs, makes up our cellular membranes, and are important for neural and macular health among many other physiological needs. Nuts contain low to no cholesterol and SFAs (saturated fats) while high in PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) and MUFAs (monounsaturated fats). The high quantities of MUFAs, PUFAs, fiber, and plant sterols that are found in nuts are associated with lowering cholesterol in the body. Excessive cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular health complications and heart disease.
Not all nuts are created equal -, the chart found below includes peanuts, while not technically a tree nut (because they grow in the ground and are a member of the legume family), they are very similar to tree nuts in the way we consume them.
Almonds, pistachios, and peanuts are good sources of protein whether you are a non-meat eater or not. Eating nuts with meals helps to slow rise in blood sugar levels because they are made up of mostly fat and protein. Consistent high blood sugar can lead to diabetes and studies have shown an association between nut consumption and a decreased risk for developing type II diabetes. Nuts may also be helpful in weight loss and weight maintenance because the digestion of nuts increases the human metabolic rate (increasing total energy output) and may also increase the feeling of fullness.
Certain nuts are loaded with antioxidants like vitamin E (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts, pecans) and flavonols which may reduce heart disease (e.g. hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios). Various nuts have been found beneficial in preventing and or delaying the progression of degenerative neurological conditions due to their antioxidant content. Antioxidants also help lower inflammation and reduce oxidative stress within our bodies that can wreak havoc on our health (e.g. heart disease and cancer risk).
Some nuts are slightly more nutrient dense than others. For example, an almond has more protein, less fat, and more vitamins and minerals than a macadamia nut. This doesn’t mean that we should eat loads of almonds and demonize macadamia nuts. Rather than focusing on one nut or any nut being superior to another, we should strive to eat nuts diversely. In addition, the nuts we typically find as snack foods are salted - even if they are raw or unsalted, nuts can potentially ‘clog us up’ if we don’t hydrate properly - so please enjoy your nuts in moderation and don’t forget to drink lots of water!
Alexandria Wolz, Nutritionist + Physical Activity Expert for: