Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are packed with healthy fats like omega 3, and 6 fatty acids, fiber, plant sterols which lower cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals. Due to their richness in a variety of nutrients, nuts are a superfood for:
- Cardiovascular health
- Weight loss
- Curbing hypertension
- Lowering cholesterol
- Reducing inflammatory markers in the body
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.
High in heart-healthy unsaturated fats
Though the fat content in nuts is usually high, the composition is most favorable to health. Most of the nuts contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and some nuts like almond and walnut contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which lowers cardiovascular disease.
Rich in omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids
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.
High in protein
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.
Rich in vitamins and minerals
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.
Good source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium
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.
Rich in antioxidants
Rich in Tocopherols and phenolic compounds which are rich in antioxidants. Tocopherols are usually classified as vitamin E. 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 Help lower cholesterol
Nuts contain phytosterols, which are plant sterols having powerful cholesterol-lowering properties. These sterols restrict cholesterol absorption into the cell and lower blood cholesterol. They also help to bring up the good cholesterol (i.e. HDL cholesterol), for added benefit. This along with nuts anti-inflammatory effects are valuable for heart health.
Aids weight loss
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.
A variety always gives exposure to more nutrients. Almond is the best source of vitamin E, cashews are a good source of magnesium, and pistachios are rich in the phytonutrients which is important for good eye health.
Remember, it is most beneficial to consume them raw, whole and unprocessed, for maximum nutritive value unsalted, and unpeeled nuts generally give the best results.
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.
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