Nuts are among the top five most wholesome and nutrition-packed foods. Besides being rich in plant proteins, nuts contain a host of valuable nutrients, such as vitamins A, E and folate, trace minerals like magnesium, selenium, copper, zinc and phosphorus, fiber, heart-friendly fats, and antioxidants.
Yes, nuts are calorie-dense (30 g yielding some 200 calories), and this may give the notion that people on a weight loss diet should avoid them. But their nutritive value is so high that it would be nothing short of foolish not to include them in your diet plan. In fact, if consumed in limited quantities, their high calorie content can be exploited as a bonus by weight watchers – because nuts-based snacks could quell hunger pangs with much fewer calories compared to other snack foods, which not only provide more calories they do so with minimal nutrition.
The health benefits of nuts are too numerous to be ignored. These are summarized below:
Cardiovascular benefits: Many studies have shown beyond doubt that people who consume a small handful of nuts at least 3-4 times a week reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke by half compared to those who don’t. The cardiovascular benefits of nuts are conferred by the heart-friendly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats present in them. Most nuts are also rich in heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids.
Cholesterol-lowering benefits: The good fats and the fiber in nuts help wipe out the low-density lipoproteins (the so-called bad cholesterol, or LDL) from the blood serum. It may be pointed out here that it is the LDL that causes plaque deposits to be formed on the inside arterial walls, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening and blockage of arteries) and ultimately to cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. Not only this, nuts increase the good, heart-protective component of cholesterol (the high-density lipoproteins, or HDL), acting like a double-edged weapon.
Lowering blood pressure and risk to diabetes: Nuts contain l-arginine in plenty. L-rginine is an amino acid that enhances the production of nitric oxide in the body. And nitric oxide helps relax the arteries and make them more flexible and less prone to blood clots. This in turn helps lower blood pressure. Since nuts figure very low on the glycemic index scale, including them in your daily diet will make you less prone to diabetes.
Other benefits: Nuts being loaded with antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium, help mop away the infamous free radicals, reducing your risk to cancer and to all kinds of aging-related degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, arthritis, etc. Nuts also seem to prevent the formation of gallstones due to their high magnesium content.
Although all kinds of nuts are considered healthy, some are more healthy than the others. Nuts that figure in the top of the list in terms of their health benefits are walnuts, almonds, pecans, chestnuts, peanuts (though strictly speaking they are not nuts but legumes), cashews, pistachio nuts, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts.
Here are some practical tips to derive the maximum health benefits out of nuts: Don’t just enjoy them as in-between-meals snacks, mix a handful of roasted nuts with your salads, spread nut butter on your toast, or use them as a topping for your pasta and steamed/sautéed vegetables.
Remember, however, that you would lose out on these benefits if you fry them or coat them with chocolate, sugar or salt. Also, since nuts are calorie-dense, it is best to use them as a substitute for your saturated fats intake. This means, go slow on dairy full-fat dairy products and meat products, but go nuts about nuts.