Eating more healthily in 2017 could be as easy as adding a handful of nuts to your diet each day. New research shows that people who eat at least 20 grams of nuts a day can cut their risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30 per cent, cancer by 15 per cent and premature death by 22 per cent.
The study was led by researchers from Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Co-author Dagfinn Aune from the School of Public Health at Imperial says: “We found a consistent reduction in risk across many different diseases, which is a strong indication that there is a real underlying relationship between nut consumption and different health outcomes. It’s quite a substantial effect for such a small amount of food.”
The study included all kinds of tree nuts, such as hazelnuts and walnuts, and also peanuts (which are actually legumes). The results were in general similar whether total nut intake, tree nuts or peanuts were analysed.
Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce risk of obesity over time. Since nuts are also energy dense, Michelle Lau, certified nutritionist and nutrition educator at Nutrilicious, advises you to ration your intake to just a fistful per day to reap the benefits without sacrificing your waistline.
“Avoid the overly salted and honey-glazed versions, which are often packed with unnecessary sugar and sodium,” Lau says.
According to Raymond Chung Tsz-man, nutritionist at Mineralysis and Albert Place Practice, the thin membrane of nuts contains the highest source of flavonoids or polyphenolic nutrients. Discarding the skin during consumption or food preparation compromises its health benefits. He recommends adding a variety of nuts to our diet since prolonged consumption of just a single type of nut could result in chronic delayed onset of food allergy of that particular nut.
It’s important to store nuts in a cool, dry place as high temperatures and humidity make them susceptible to contamination by the Aspergillus Flavus fungus, which secretes aflatoxin, a poisonous carcinogen that’s also associated with acute hepatitis, immunosuppression and neutropenia (low concentration of white blood cells).
Along with proper storage, avoid exposing nuts to direct sunlight as sunlight exposure depletes the beneficial essential oil and natural vitamin E in nuts. How can you tell if they’ve been oxidised? Simple: if the taste or smell is rancid, discard.
For people allergic to nuts, Lau encourages eating a varied diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Flax, chia and hemp seeds are a great substitute for nuts. These seeds have a similar nutrient profile (healthy fats, fibre, minerals) to nuts. Hummus made from chickpeas, like peanut butter, also provides a good source of protein. Sunflower seeds or soy nuts may be good options if you are looking for a little crunch.
The top 10 nuts to add to your diet
A 30-gram serving of almonds contains more fibre and vitamin E than any other nut, and is an excellent source of magnesium and manganese. The antioxidant function of vitamin E in almonds along with their magnesium and potassium can reduce LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Ayurvedic medicine rates almonds highly for increasing brain capacity, intellect and longevity.
Referred to as an anti-cancer super food due to its rich source of selenium, an antioxidant that can protect against cancer and heart attack. Its high fibre and healthy fats content are also essential in detoxification, thyroid functions and controlling inflammation.
Lower in fat than most nuts, they contain anacardic acid, which improves insulin sensitivity (which is beneficial to diabetic people) and help prevent chronic inflammation. Cashew nuts are rich in heart-friendly monounsaturated-fatty acids such as oleic, and palmitoleic acids that help lower harmful LDL-cholesterol while increasing good HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Peanuts contain one of the highest amounts of protein per serving among nuts. They also contain vitamin E, folate, niacin, magnesium and potassium. In Chinese medicine food therapy, peanut skin is often recommended for those with low platelet counts.
Pecans contain the highest polyphenol and flavonoid content among tree nuts. They are also a rich source of vitamin E , which inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. A fistful of pecans provides 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake of fibre.
Pistachios have the second highest polyphenol and flavonoid content of the tree nuts. They are also an excellent source of potassium, vitamin B6, copper, and manganese. Studies have shown that eating in-shell pistachios enhances feelings of fullness and satisfaction while reducing caloric intake. Snacking on them has beneficial effects on glycaemic control, blood pressure, obesity, and inflammation markers in diabetic patients.
While lower in fibre and monounsaturated fats than many other nuts , walnuts are significantly higher in omega-3 fats than other tree nuts and peanuts, and also have higher levels of antioxidants. According to a study by the University of Texas Health Science Centre, 1g of walnut contains between 2.5 and 4.5 nanograms of melatonin, which is beneficial in treating insomnia.
High levels of vitamin E, manganese, thiamine, folate, and fatty acids in hazelnuts improve brain and cognitive function and help prevent degenerative diseases later in life. They are also a good source of folate, which contributes to spine and brain development during pregnancy.
Chestnuts contain flavonoids such as quercetin, which protect against diabetic complications and cancer. Chung cautions the quantity of nuts necessary per person varies for optimum benefit. For example, if one suffers from chronic diarrhoea due to impaired absorption of nutrients, chestnuts can help to improve the condition. However, when the diarrhoea is cured, prolonged intake of chestnut can result in constipation.
Since macadamia nuts are free from gluten, they are commonly used in the preparation of gluten-free food formulas. They are rich in many important B complex vitamins that are vital for metabolic functions. Macadamiascontain monounsaturated fats and contain polyphenol compounds, which help to reduce coronary artery disease risk factors.