Eat nuts in small quantities to live longer and decrease inflammation. Nuts really are good for you because they provide “smart” fats, protein, fiber, and are very high in antioxidants, especially walnuts, almonds, pecans, and macadamia nuts. A new analysis in the journal Nutrition Research Reviews tells us which nuts to eat for better health and provides tips on what we need to avoid.
Walnuts provide the largest amount of high-quality antioxidants and a nice dose of alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. Researchers suggest walnuts are the most beneficial nut health-wise, but for best results you can include pecans, pistachios, almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pine nuts in your diet because they all provide diverse antioxidants.
Studies of health benefits show that eating a variety of nuts will have the greatest impact on protecting the heart and preventing cancer:
• In four large-scale studies that included the Nurses’ and the Physicians’ Health studies, frequent nut consumption was associated with a decreased risk of heart attack. Eating a 1-ounce serving of nuts five times per week resulted in a 50 percent lower risk of heart disease than eating the same serving only once a week.
• Frequent nut intake can lower your risk of all-cause mortality. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, eating two or more servings of nuts decreased death risk by 12 percent compared with eating less than one serving a month.
• Nut consumption has been associated with less risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
• Eating two servings of almonds, pecans, and walnuts five or more times a week decreased LDL cholesterol by as much as 20 percent in individuals with high cholesterol. Other studies have shown similar results from including macadamias, pecans, pistachios, and hazelnuts in the diet.
• Compared with a low-fat control diet, eating one serving of nuts a day improved insulin health and decreased oxidative stress levels in older adults aged 55 to 80. Endothelial function and heart health improved too, indicating the benefit of healthy fats on cardiovascular function and arterial health.
• One study took a Mediterranean diet—one that provides many health benefits compared with a low-fat or typical Western diet—and substituted walnuts for 30 percent of energy from fat, which resulted in better cholesterol health and lower heart disease risk. A similar substitution with pistachios also improved heart health and increased glucose tolerance.
• Other studies have shown that replacing between 25 and 50 percent of dietary fat with almonds, pistachios, pecans, and hazelnuts will significantly decrease oxidative stress markers, such as C-reactive protein.
• Walnuts and almonds have been shown to decrease DNA damage in smokers and patients with metabolic syndrome.
The analysis showed that raw nuts will always contain more antioxidants than roasted nuts, making walnuts a great choice since they are normally eaten raw and unroasted. The most important thing when adding nuts to your diet is to opt for organic whenever possible to avoid pesticide exposure. A few more things to be aware of include the following:
• In the U.S., almonds are only available in roasted or pasteurized form due to a food safety law. For some strange reason, producers can still label almonds as raw even though they have been pasteurized. Pasteurization doesn’t significantly decrease the antioxidant content, so instead of worrying about it, include organic “raw” almonds in your diet along with a wide variety of other nuts.
• Avoid nuts from China, especially pistachios because they are commonly bleached, which decreases the antioxidant levels and leaves dangerous residue on the nuts.
• Other nut treatments that you want to avoid include hot water blanching, high temperature roasting, and especially irradiation.
• Try to buy and use nuts regularly and not store them for long periods. Nutritional value will degrade over time, making it better to eat them as fresh as possible.
To read about how I get my daily nuts, read the Poliquin Meat and Nut Breakfast
Bolling, B., Chen, C., et al. Tree Nut Phytochemicals: Composition, Antioxidant Capacity, Bioactivity, Impact Factors. A Systematic Review of Almonds, Brazils, Cashews Hazelnuts, Macadamias, Pecans, Pine Nuts, Pistachios, and Walnuts. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2011. 24, 244-275.