I do believe that a small handful of unsalted nuts every day is a great addition to a wholesome diet. Packed with protein, fibre and essential fats, if used correctly nuts can be hugely beneficial. In moderation they make a great snack, especially as a replacement to crisps or other processed items.
Their high protein content means they are a fabulous source of energy and many of the micro-nutrients make them great for our skin, take the Vitamin E content of almonds for example.
Studies show that increased nut consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. And more recently, researchers at Harvard have posed the question; do all the health benefits of nuts translate into greater longevity?
Their research suggests that daily nut consumers had fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease, even after controlling other lifestyle factors. Nut consumers lived significantly longer whether they were older or younger, fat or skinny, whether they exercised more, smoked, drank, or ate other foods that may affect mortality.
There is of course the ‘fat’ question; the concern that frequent nut consumption can result in weight gain. However, that’s not what the Harvard researchers found. In fact, other studies have associated nut consumption with a slimmer waist, less weight gain, and lower risk of obesity.
Nut types differ in their fat profile therefore it is wise to incorporate a variety of nuts into your diet in order to obtain a beneficial balance of healthy fats. For monounsaturated fats include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans and pistachios. Brazil nuts, pine nuts and walnuts will offer more polyunsaturated fats.
The essential plant omega-3 fat called Alpha Linolenic Acid or ALA (important for heart health) can be found in walnuts, with smaller amounts being found in pecans, hazelnuts and macadamias. We often hear of omega 3 being found in fish so here we have an alternative for vegans, vegetarians and non-fish eaters. ALA is not identical to fish omega 3s, but is still a health-giving fat.
How nuts do we have to go? I like to keep to the ‘5 a day’ motto as it’s easy to remember; five large nuts per day and no more. Over-eating can put pressure on the digestive system and for IBS sufferers they may wish to avoid whole nuts entirely as these can irritate an inflamed gut. I suggest grinding a variety of nuts in a mini-chopper until a fine powder is formed and then sprinkling this onto yogurt or pop into a smoothie. This, of course, does not replace your 5 a day from fruit and vegetables.