Are on a Roll
Romans considered many nuts food of the gods. Because walnuts
resemble the brain, they were used to treat head ailments during
the Renaissance. The Incas made pottery in the shape of the
highly prized peanut. More recently the health reputation of
nuts has been on a roller coaster. A few decades ago nuts were
valued for their protein, vitamins, and minerals. Then in the
1980s they were seen primarily as fat-and-calorie landmines—to
be avoided by all except those trying to gain weight. But during
the last decade, nuts have been on the rise, thanks to research
pointing to their potential heart benefits.
impressive array of studies—large and small, from around
the world—have now found that people who eat nuts regularly
cut their risk of heart disease by as much as half, compared
to those who rarely or never eat nuts. In the last few years,
several studies have found that 1 to 3 ounces a day of walnuts
or almonds, in particular, can lower elevated blood cholesterol
levels, as well as other substances in the blood (including
apolipoprotein B) that have been linked to heart disease. And
recently a study of more than 83,000 nurses found that those
who ate an ounce of nuts at least five times a week had a 27%
lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, and those who ate peanut butter
five times a week had a 21% lower risk.
all this evidence, many researchers now think that nuts should
be moved to a more prominent place on the government's food
pyramid. In other words, small amounts should be part of your
are many substances in nuts that may explain their heart-healthy
potential (and other health benefits). Nuts are rich in
n monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: these can lower
blood cholesterol, especially when substituted for foods high
in saturated fat, such as meat or cheese.
folate and other B vitamins: these may reduce the risk of
heart disease by lowering blood levels of homocysteine.
copper, potassium, and magnesium—all three linked to
heart health—and other minerals.
vitamin E, possibly cardio-protective.
arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels and
inhibits blood clotting.
fiber, with all its health benefits.
phytochemicals (notably sterols, ellagic acid, polyphenols,
and saponins) that may act as antioxidants and lower cholesterol.
nut is best
nuts have a lot in common. Most have 160 to 190 calories and
14 to 19 grams of fat per ounce; at least three-quarters of
the calories come from fat. They are also among the best plant
sources of protein.
There are some nutritional differences. Walnuts are richest
in heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid
similar to those in fish); almonds are richest in calcium and
vitamin E; brazil nuts are the best dietary source of selenium.
Macadamia nuts have the most calories and fat; chestnuts the
least (just 70 calories and 1 gram of fat). And peanuts are
not true nuts, but legumes (like dried beans). Similar nutritionally
to nuts, peanuts contain some resveratrol, a beneficial compound
found in grapes.
don't go nuts
are, of course, high in calories: a handful can pack as many
as a piece of cake (dry-roasted nuts are just as caloric as
oil-roasted ones). In many of the nut studies that found benefits,
people ate nuts instead of other foods. That's the best strategy,
because if you gain weight from eating lots of nuts, that's
bad for your heart. The good news is that nuts tend to be satisfying
and, according to some studies, help reduce hunger longer than
nuts are often high in salt, too, though unsalted ones are widely
don't go overboard with nuts. An ounce or two a day will do.
Instead of using nuts as a snack, when you might eat large amounts,
use them as part of a meal. Chopped nuts are tasty in fruit
or vegetable salads, yogurt, oatmeal, home-baked breads and
muffins, pancakes, casseroles, breakfast cereal, chicken salad,
rice dishes, and stir-fries. When possible, substitute nuts
for foods rich in saturated fat. Peanut butter, for instance,
is definitely a healthier choice for a sandwich than cheese
or most meats.
spread the news: Nut butters have the same nutritional advantages
as nuts. Some people shy away from commercial peanut butters,
because the makers add hydrogenated vegetable oil to keep the
peanut oil from separating. But USDA research has shown that
these contain very small amounts of hydrogenated oil and thus
almost no trans fats. There are many natural nut butters that
contain no added oil.
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