In the first part of this double header we looked at how nuts play an important role in weight management. This time around we’re going to take a look at some of the other benefits associated with regular nut consumption and hopefully give you a couple of ideas of how you can start to incorporate more nuts into your diet.
Nuts & Heart Health
So in the first instalment we discovered that four big longitudinal studies demonstrated that that those who ate nuts weighed less than those who didn’t. Well these same studies also show that nut consumption reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), the biggest cause of death in the UK. The Adventist Health Study calculated that the risk of developing coronary heart disease or suffering a heart attack was halved in those eating at least 28g of nuts 5 or more times a week. The Nurses’ Health Study and Physicians Health Study reported similar reductions of 30-40% in frequent nut consumers. The reduction in risk was found to be lower in the Iowa Women’s Health Study however they had a lower threshold for classifying regular consumption; two times a week compared to five in the others.
Nuts & Cholesterol
Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, are known to be an important risk factor for CVD and other related conditions. A recent review of 25 studies found that diets containing nuts reduce LDL cholesterol by around 10% (Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006) compared with traditional Western and low fat diets whilst also increasing the HDL, or ‘good’, cholesterol. Research by Jenkins et al. (2002) has reported a dose response relationship between nut consumption and LDL levels; in theory this means the more nuts you eat, the greater the reduction in your ‘bad’ cholesterol. In the Jenkins study participants consuming 73g of nuts per day reduced their LDL levels by 9.4% whereas participants consuming 37g reduced their LDL by 4.4%. Similar results have been observed by Sabate et al. (2003).
A diet rich in fibre is key to maintaining an efficient digestive system and healthy bowels. Government guidelines conservatively suggest that we should be getting at least 18g of fibre per day although more is certainly preferable. If you’re trying to steer clear of grains (as the majority of you should be), nuts are pretty much an essential if you’re to be hitting your daily fibre intake. As we mentioned previously, foods high in fibre also increase feelings of satiety and fullness as well as helping to stabilise blood sugar levels.
Antioxidants have been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on a variety of health factors, brain function and immune health to name just two, as well as potentially protecting against certain cancers. We need to consume ample quantities of antioxidants to help offset the destructive ‘free-radicals’ that are produced by the body. Nuts contain a variety of different antioxidants so it’s important to eat as many different varieties as possible. Vitamin E (found in high quantities in almonds) and selenium (found in brazils) are perhaps the two most important.
Nuts are great sources of minerals such as magnesium, zinc, calcium and potassium (which we want) whilst being relatively low in sodium (which we have more than enough of already). Magnesium and zinc deficiencies are widespread among the Western population so increasing your nut consumption is a good idea. It may also surprise you to hear that almonds are actually a richer source of calcium than cows’ milk!
Incorporating Nuts in your Diet
- Add to salads – simply choose a few of your favourites and scatter them over the top.
- Create a nut crust topping for fish – either mix some chopped nuts with butter and smear over the fish or simply dip the fish in some beaten egg and then into some chopped nuts.
- Add to a stir fry – cashews are brilliant for this but pine nuts can work as well.
- Experiment with nut oils – macadamia nut oil is great for cooking with due to its high smoke point but varieties such as pine nut oil can be great for dressings.
- Trail mixes – a trial mix is a combination of nuts and dried fruits; you can buy these ready mixed or experiment and create your own.
- Nut butters – there’s better and healthier options than peanut; try varieties such as almond, brazil and cashew.
- The meat and nut breakfast – of course, I couldn’t possibly leave out the meat and nut breakfast as popularised by Charles Poliquin. Check the article out here if you haven’t already.
Fraser G.E. et al. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Arch Intern Med 1992; 152(7):1416–24.
Hu F.B. et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ 1998; 317(7169): 1341–5.
Albert C.M. et al. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Intern Med 2002; 162(12):1382–7.
Ellsworth J.L. L.H. Kushi and A.R. Folsom. Frequent nut intake and risk of death from coronary heart disease and all causes in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2000; 11(6):372–7.
Griel A.E. and P.M. Kris-Etherton. Tree nuts and the lipid profile: a review of clinical studies. Br J Nutr 2006; 96 Suppl. 2):S68–S78.
Jenkins D.J.A. et al. Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Circulation 2002; 106(11):1327-32
Sabate J et al. Serum lipid response to the graduated enrichment of a Step I diet with almonds: a randomized feeding trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 77(6):1379-84.