Nuts may be the healthiest snack food around
February 14, 2011
For many years, nuts got a bad rap: they're full of fat and calories, the story went, and are often served coated with sugar or salt. But research has saved walnuts, almonds, pecans and other nuts from the junk food aisle, because doctors now know that nuts are healthy foods that can help lower cholesterol.
In 2010, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a report that analyzed 25 different studies from seven countries involving almost 600 men and women. The results showed, in essence, that nuts are good for you.
People of normal weights who ate about 67 grams (roughly two handfuls) of nuts a day, according to the study, had healthier cholesterol profiles than people who didn't eat nuts. Specifically, a diet that included nuts was linked to lower total cholesterol, lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels in those with previously high triglycerides. The study also found that the more nuts a person ate, the more benefits they derived.
Other studies have substantiated the fact that nuts are good food: though they contain fats, most nuts have high levels of healthy unsaturated fats. Nuts also contain protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, making them an ideal snack food. In addition, nuts are rich in plant sterols, which may be one reason they lower cholesterol. Research also suggests nuts improve heart health in other ways.
Which Nuts Are the Healthiest?
All nuts, however, are not created equal. Nuts that have found favor among nutritionists include almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and peanuts (which are technically a legume, not a nut). Walnuts are also prized for their omega-3 fatty acids.
But macadamia nuts, cashews and Brazil nuts, though they have some health benefits, are relatively high in unhealthy saturated fats. And any nuts that are salted, candied or covered in sugar or chocolate are less beneficial than plain nuts.
Eating too many nuts—like any other food—could add a significant number of calories to your diet. But if you're looking for a tasty, nutritious way to get the benefits that a moderate amount of nuts would give you, try sprinkling them on salad, in pasta dishes, or eating them raw as a healthy snack. When nuts replace foods high in saturated fats, such as red meat, the cholesterol effect is even greater.
National Heart Foundation of Australia. "Summary of evidence: Dietary fats and dietary cholesterol for cardiovascular health." May 2009.Sabate, Joan et al. "Nut Consumption and Blood Lipid Levels: A Pooled Analysis of 25 Intervention Trials." Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010; 170 (9): 821-827 USDA