It is only in recent years that nuts have emerged as a healthy food snack which people are encouraged to incorporate into their diet. In the past their bad rap came from the assumption that because nuts were full of fat they were bad for you. Thankfully, this is not the case and while full of fat, it is the type of fat our bodies need to survive as healthy human beings.Research in Australia has shown that we do not eat nearly as much nuts as necessary to reap the nutty benefits. For example nuts assist in lowering bad cholesterol, protect against heart disease and improve blood vessel function. A number of studies suggest that eating 30g of nuts at least 5 times a week can reduce heart disease risk by 30-50%. This may be because nuts contain natural plant sterols as well as antioxidants that help keep our arteries in top notch.
So what is it in nuts that make them so desirably healthy? Let’s take a look:
Essential Fatty Acids (Good Fats)
Unfortunately with our Western diet we consume more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that we need a ratio of 1:1 to remain in balance, whereas the average joe tends to skew towards the 15:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3). This comes from the over consumption of omega-6s typically found in poultry, eggs, wheat and most vegetable oils. When we consume excessive amounts of this fatty acid it can promote cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. To restore the balance we need more omega-3 which is found in seeds, greens and NUTS! Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect against irregular heart rhythms which can lead to heart attacks and lower levels of bad fats in the blood stream which increase the risk of heart disease.
There are many benefits of dietary fibre including normalising bowel movements, lowering cholesterol, helping control blood sugar levels and assisting in weight loss. It enhances the overall health of your colon by preventing constipation, providing relief from irritable bowel syndrome and reducing your risk of developing haemorrhoids and diverticulitis. Nuts provide an amazing source of soluble fibre and because they are low on the glycemic index, they can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
This fat soluble vitamin is one of the most powerful antioxidants as it has the ability to seek out and neutralise potentially damaging chemicals. It is also essential for proper immune function, healthy skin, DNA repair and other metabolic processes. Research has found that Vitamin E helps stop the development of arterial plaque which can lead to coronary artery disease. Among the nut family almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and peanut butter (even though technically, a legume, peanuts possess the same qualities as a nut) have the highest Vitamin E content per serving.
L-arginine is an amino acid which has been shown to improve blood vessel function by relaxing the blood vessels, making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots. This amino acid can also boost immune function, promote wound healing and help manage existing cardiovascular disease. It just so happens that nuts are one of the BEST sources of arginine, especially walnuts, peanuts and almonds.
Nuts are also high in protein, although not a complete protein like that sourced from animal products. Combining nuts with carbs such as nut butter on bread or peanuts in a stirfry with rice will effectively give you the equivalent to a full set of protein, making nuts an excellent protein source for vegetarians.
So instead of reaching for that packet of chips next time you want a snack, grab a handful of nuts. The possibilities are endless! Nut butters spread on rice cakes or toast, raw desserts, garnishes, peanut satay or straight up. Enjoy the many varieties available and celebrate your new path to better health.