When It Comes to Health, Go Nuts

By Anna Sachse

Posted November 19, 2008 in Mind Body Spirit

Looking for a cheap, satisfying, healthy snack? Why not indulge in some yummy “dried fruit consisting of an edible kernel or meat enclosed in a woody or leathery shell?” Or, in other words, just go nuts. 


Whether it’s almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, nuts pack an abundance of unsaturated fatty acids, protein and other nutrients into a tiny package. Of course, these tasty nubbins lose a little of their nutritive glory when they’re embedded in a Snickers bar, but keep ‘em clean and you have a delightfully nutty nosh that also appears to do wonders for your heart.


I say appears because much of the research into the heart-health benefits of nuts is still relatively new, thus the FDA only allows food companies to say evidence “suggests but does not prove” that eating nuts reduces heart disease risk. But that probably just means that the nut lobbying group isn’t big or rich enough yet. All the way back in the 1990s, the famed Adventist Health Study, involving a large population of California Seventh Day Adventists, found that in addition to reducing the risk of heart attack by up to 60-percent, eating nuts was one of the four top factors for extending longevity. In addition, according to Dr. Gerald Gau, a preventive cardiologist for the Mayo Clinic who’s been involved in developing national cholesterol guidelines, most studies have found that nuts lower the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) level in the blood, one of the primary causes of heart disease. Nuts also reduce the risk of developing blood clots that can cause heart attacks, and strengthen the lining of your arteries. All of that bodes quite well for the more-nuts-equals-strong-heart connection. 


Even though it isn’t entirely clear yet why these overgrown seeds are so darn good for your ticker, it’s thought that the unsaturated fats in nuts are responsible for lowering those LDL levels, and the profusion of omega-3 fatty acids help prevent dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. In fact, nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3s—keep that in mind if you’re not a fan of oily fish. Nuts also contain whole-body health-boosting Vitamin E and fiber, as well as a fair amount of arginine, a molecule that increases the production of nitric oxide in your body, which may in turn help improve the health of your artery walls and make them more flexible and less prone to blood clots.  


That said, when it comes to nuts, too much of a good thing isn’t that good for you after all. Nuts can be as much as 80-percent fat. While most of this fat is healthy fat, it still contains a lot of calories which can lead to decidedly not heart-healthy weight gain if eaten in excess—which is very easy to do. To put it into perspective, a half a cup serving of shelled walnut halves contains 327 calories; a half cup of shelled pistachios has 357; a half cup of shelled pecans halves has 373; a half cup of cashews has 393; a half cup of almonds has 409; a half cup of hazelnuts has 424; a half cup of pine nuts has 458; and a half cup of macadamia nuts has 481. That’s like snacking your way through an entire meal in seconds. 


Gau recommends following current dietary guidelines and eating one to two ounces (a small handful) of nuts each day. You can certainly eat them by themselves as a snack, combined with a small handful of dried fruit, or make them a topper for yogurt, cereal or salads. It’s so easy that you’d be crazy not to go nuts.




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