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Feature Article Go Nuts for Nuts

By Lisa Robinson, RDN

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Many people avoid eating nuts due to their high fat content and fear of gaining weight. However, nuts have many health benefits and should be included as a part of a healthy, balanced diet. Nuts contain heart healthy fats as well as fiber, protein and other nutrients important for your body. Plus, they are a quick and easy snack on the go!

Nuts and your heart

Large studies have linked eating nuts with a 35 to 50 percent decrease in heart disease risk.  One way nuts may help your heart is by lowering your LDL, or “bad", cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol can cause a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels, which can lead to heart attacks and other heart problems.

Eating more nuts has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation that is typically found in heart disease, most likely due to their high antioxidant content. Nuts may also help reduce your risk of developing blood clots.

What gives nuts their heart healthy power?

  • Unsaturated fats. The “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many kinds of fish, but many nuts are also rich in these heart healthy fats. Omega-3s help your heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks.
  • Fiber. All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower your cholesterol. As an added bonus, fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
  • Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in your arteries. Plaque development in your arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower your cholesterol.
  • L-arginine is a substance that may help improve the health of your artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots.

Nuts and weight loss

Studies have shown that people who eat nuts more often weigh the same or less than people who never eat nuts. Even a small amount of nuts can make you feel full and help curb your appetite. Nuts are high in protein and fiber, both of which take longer to digest and help give you the feeling of fullness. The crunchiness of the nut can also help curb cravings. The movement of the jaw up and down, as needed for crunchy snacks, releases the chemical serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness and reduction in stress.

How much should I eat?

Scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. The nuts that have the most benefits are almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts.

Eating a small handful, or about an ounce, of nuts before a meal has shown to reduce the amount of food that people eat at their meal and even throughout the rest of the day.

Although nuts are a great addition to your diet, be mindful of portions to make sure you don’t eat too many. Try putting nuts into individual snack bags for an easy on the go option.  Also, be sure to avoid nuts with added sugar and salt. If you like your nuts salty, try mixing half salted nuts with unsalted nuts.