Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are packed with healthy fats (namely omega 3 & 6 fatty acids), fiber, plant sterols, vitamins, and minerals. Due to their richness in a variety of nutrients, they are very effective in –
Nature has provided us with an assorted variety of nuts to enjoy. There are tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnut, cashews, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, chestnuts, etc. Peanuts grow underground, therefore are really a legume, but are categorized as a nut due to their nut like properties.
Though the fat content in nuts is usually high, the composition is most favorable to health. They are generally low in saturated fats which can be harmful, and high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-3 and 6 fats are known to lower triglycerides in the blood and prevent plaque build-up in the arteries. These are advantageous fats, especially with respect to brain and heart health.
Nuts are a good source of protein. Protein is an important macro-nutrient that our body needs for maintenance, replenishment, and restoration of bodily functions. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, which have different roles in the body. One amino acid found in high quantities in nuts is L-arginine. This is later converted to Nitric-oxide in the body, which is a vaso-dilator (i.e. it opens up blood vessels) and allows for better blood flow. This is very important for heart or vessel-related ailments, such as heart disease and blood pressure. Nuts also provide fiber, which is good for digestion, as well as cholesterol reduction.
Besides macro-nutrients, nuts also contain several micro-nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. They contain definite amounts of folate (which is a B vitamin). Folate is very essential in our diet, as it is involved in the synthesis of DNA, amino acid metabolism, and methylation of neurons. If folate is insufficient, it gives rise to high levels of homocysteine. This is an amino acid associated with thrombosis, oxidative stress, and uncontrolled cell growth. Elevated levels of this can potentially lead to plaque build-up in arteries, stroke, osteoporosis, and complications in pregnancy, dementia, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, it is important to include adequate folate in our diet, and nuts can help in replenishing folic acid deficiency.
Continuing with micro-nutrients, they are a good source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They generally have no or very little sodium (given that they are unsalted). A diet encompassing a combination of low sodium, and high calcium, magnesium, and potassium is useful in fighting bone mineralization, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Nuts are rich in Tocopherols and phenolic compounds. Tocopherols are usually classified as vitamin E. Some forms of tocopherols and polyphenols have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are important in combating free radicals in the body, which cause oxidative damage to cells. Both almonds and walnuts contain significant amounts of tocopherols. It is good to note that most of the antioxidants are held in the soft skin (i.e. pellicle), which are often lost when removed. This happens more with almonds than walnuts, as walnuts are usually eaten raw as is (without their hard shell of course). Impressively, the roasting of almonds keeps the phenolic compounds in-tact, compared to blanching them.
Nuts are cholesterol free but contain phytosterols, which are plant sterols. These sterols interfere with cholesterol absorption into the cell and therefore lower blood cholesterol. They also help to bring up the good cholesterol (i.e. HDL cholesterol), for added benefit. This along with nut’s anti-inflammatory effects are again valuable for heart health. Remember again, it is most beneficial to consume them raw, whole and unprocessed, for maximum nutritive value.
A handful of almonds is a great snack choice, in comparison to snacks high in complex carbohydrates, such as bran muffins (which are usually made with saturated fats). Many studies have shown weight reduction, as well as lowering of total body fat when nuts were consumed two or more times per week (along with physical activity, and watching your overall diet). Also, remember that obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and many other conditions. So, try replacing your afternoon snack with a fistful of trail mix, or yogurt with nuts sprinkled on top.
Nuts have numerous health benefits but they have to be taken in moderation, as they are high in calories. A serving size is usually an ounce to ounce and a half. They are also very filling as they are high in protein and fiber. A variety always gives exposure to more nutrients.
Again, raw, unprocessed, unsalted, and unpeeled nuts generally give the best results.
We will look at some of the more popular nuts in detail in the next article.
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Know your diet https://www.jkyog.org/science-healthy-diet-0
by Pragya Sinha