Life Healthy Eating

Thursday 13 December 2018

Nuts are a 'shew-in for well-being

Low-fat regimes consigned nuts to the naughty list which led to a negative impact on health. Our dietitian sets the record straight

Nuts have many health benefits and provide satiety, reducing the need for other, less healthy, snacks
Nuts have many health benefits and provide satiety, reducing the need for other, less healthy, snacks
Walnuts are an excellent source of melatonin and could help you sleep

Orla Walsh

Nuts are good sources of fat, fibre and protein, so why aren't we eating more of them? It's probably because they pack a fairly weighty caloric punch, but they are also crammed full of goodness. Thankfully nut butters have burst onto the main arena, making us go nuts for nuts once again.

Nut butters

The low-fat diet had a negative impact on nut consumption which ultimately had negative effects on heath. The tide has turned, and with that the obsession with nuts and nut butters began. There are lots of reasons that nuts and nut butter are so healthy.

For example, a 30-gram portion of nuts which is equivalent to a large handful, provides about 13 to 18 grams of healthy fat, one to seven grams of protein and one to three grams of fibre.

Nuts also supply smaller nutrients that provide a lot of health-boosting powers such as vitamin E, potassium, L-arginine, phytosterols and resveratrol. Since they provide 160 to 200 calories per large handful they make the ideal snack. Nut butters provide approximately 100 calories per tablespoon, so, smeared on a piece of fruit, it's another tasty, nutritious option.

The fear of including more nuts in the diet may lie with the fear over their calorie content.

However, nuts have been shown to lead to compensatory behaviour.

In other words, the satiety factor they offer results in a reduction of calories eaten at future meals and snacks helping to balance-out the overall calorie intake.

Interestingly, there are other reasons why they may not be affecting waistlines as much as people would presume. One reason is that recent studies have discovered that certain nuts including walnuts, almonds and pistachios have fewer calories than once thought.

In fact, almonds have 32pc, pistachios have 5pc and walnuts have 21pc fewer calories than previous calculations. Adding a bit more proof to the pudding, a study tracking 76,464 females and 42,498 males found that those who ate about 30 grams of nuts each day were leaner, had a smaller waist circumference and were less likely to become obese.

While data from another study showed that those who ate even a small amount of nuts each day had lower weight and BMI than those who didn't.

It's worth noting the different ways in which we enjoy nuts as this appears to affect the amount of their nutrients that are made available to the body.

For instance, a study examined the impact processing such as roasting, chopping or blending into butter had on the available energy.

The study aimed to measure the metabolisable energy 42 grams of almonds provided the body when served whole, roasted; chopped and blended into almond butter. They saw that as you process nuts, their energy becomes more available.

The metabolisable energy of whole almonds was 4.42 kcal per gram, roasted was 4.86kcal per gram, chopped was 5.04kcal per gram and almond butter was 6.53 kcal per gram. In other words, the amount of calories absorbed from almonds is dependent on the form in which they are consumed, with almond butter coming out on top.

For those trying to lose weight, they may need to watch portion size.

There is an abundance of evidence highlighting the health benefits of nuts and nut butters. So why should we all consider adding them to our daily diet?

In one of the earliest studies, which included about 31,208 people, eating nuts more than four times per week was shown to lead to fewer fatal coronary heart disease events.

These results are replicated time and time again, including within four large epidemiologic studies which showed a correlation between eating nuts and a decreased heart disease risk.

For example, nuts lower cholesterol, inflammation and oxidation within the body. They achieve this due to the fibre they contain as well as their other biologically active nutrients such as phytonutrients and antioxidants. Benefits extend beyond the heart.

Nuts are complex whole foods that vary in their nutrient composition. Rather than one singular action of one nutrient, each nut's benefits comes from the interaction between all its nutrients. Therefore, the focus needs to be taken off one nut or nut butter and more towards variety.

Benefits: What do they do?

Almonds & almond butter

A great source of vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.

Lowers LDL 'bad' cholesterol.

Brazil nuts & Brazil nut butter

A terrific source of the antioxidant selenium.

Important for thyroid health.

Cashews & cashew butter

Contains anacardic acid. May improve insulin sensitivity and help prevent chronic inflammation.

Hazelnuts & hazelnut butter

An excellent source of manganese, copper and vitamin E.

Help to decrease of LDL and total cholesterol.

Peanuts & peanut butter

An excellent source of manganese. Needed to form an antioxidant

enzyme and to activate enzymes of the metabolism.

Pecans

Contains multiple forms of vitamin E.

Highest polyphenol and flavonoid content of the tree nuts.

Inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol reducing damage to arteries.

Pistachios

A good source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is known to help with PMS.

Macadamia

Good source of thiamine.

Mild deficiency leads to headache, irritability and fatigue.

Walnuts

Excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids positively associated with cognitive function. Natural source of melatonin, may help with sleep.

Health & Living

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life