A recent post on WebMD reported the findings of a study that proved that eating nuts on a daily basis improves blood cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Another recent piece, this one in Reader's Digest about a Pennsylvania State University study, said the same. And in March, this video listed nuts as one of the five foods you should eat daily (right up there with leafy greens, yogurt, whole grains, and onions).
So what's all the hubbub over nuts? In a world where it seems like foods are in a neverending cycle of being praised and then panned, how do nuts keep winding up on top?
Well for one, nuts are cholesterol free. Simply using nut butter instead of dairy butter on your toast will help reduce your cholesterol. Buttered toast not your thing anyway? Try replacing any junk food snack with two to three ounces of nuts a day and watch the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood drop. But most importantly, see your LDL (bad cholesterol) level drop and your ratio of LDL to HDL (good cholesterol) improve. And of course less cholesterol generally means better heart health.
Full of Fiber
Nuts are also high in natural fiber. Fiber slows down digestion, which keeps you feeling full longer, which keeps you from feeling hungry longer, which means you eat less, which is generally a good thing for most of us.
You hear "antioxidants" all the time, but what exactly are they? Besides good for you? They're chemicals that block the aging effects of free radicals, which are molecules naturally occuring in the body that damage living cells that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. A USDA study which appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2004 was the first time a major antioxidant study included nuts, and found they were very good sources of antioxidants. Research from the University of Florida in 2005 went on to report that roasting peanuts can boost overall antioxidant content by as much as 22 percent, and that roasted peanuts are about as rich in antioxidants as blackberries or strawberries.
Nuts, especially pecans, are also good sources of Vitamin-E, which has antioxidant properties and is an essential nutrient. But there are many other nutrients, like folic acid, magnesium, and phosphorus that can be found in nuts too.
But Which Nuts to Eat?
But which nuts to eat? Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, and peanuts are generally used together in most of these studies, and many of the potential health benefits are common to most nuts. Sorry macadamias, because of your very high fat content, you don't make the cut (but you get to grow up in Hawaii, so life ain't all that bad?).
The most important thing to remember about eating nuts to improve your health: MODERATION. Two to three ounces is a good serving size—it will give you the health benefits without adding too many calories to your diet. Are you eating nuts as a way to improve your health? Got any inspiring healthful recipes to share?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.
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