Confused about which nuts are good for you? All of them, explains dietitian Lisa Yates.
Nuts, like other plant foods, are rich in a range of nutrients. Consider them nature’s own vitamin pills, with each nut containing around 30 different nutrients. Think vitamin E, zinc, selenium, calcium and iron, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, protein, plant sterols, fibre and antioxidants. Interestingly, most nuts grow on trees, while peanuts are actually a legume and are pulled from the ground.
Health benefits of nuts
Heart health and cholesterol lowering
Research has shown that people who eat a handful of nuts five or more times a week have a 30–50 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, compared to those who eat nuts less than once a week. Eating nuts most days can also reduce blood cholesterol – a risk factor for heart disease – by around 10 per cent. It seems the unique combination of heart healthy nutrients are all working together to achieve this result. Healthy fats help regulate cholesterol levels, plant sterols reduce cholesterol reabsorption from the gut, antioxidants – including flavonoids, vitamin E, zinc and selenium – keep blood vessels healthy and may prevent blocked arteries, and arginine (an amino acid or building block of protein) helps keep blood vessels elastic, controlling blood pressure and heart disease.
Diabetes prevention and management
Eating nuts regularly can also reduce your risk of developing type-2 diabetes. And if you already have pre-diabetes or diabetes, research has shown that nuts may help control blood glucose and insulin levels. When nuts are consumed as part of a meal, it’s thought that their high fat content lowers the Glycemic Index (GI) and slows the rise in blood glucose levels. In addition, the arginine in nuts may stimulate insulin release from the pancreas.
It may surprise you to discover that nuts are also good for those trying to lose weight. You can eat nuts – a high fat food – in a kilojoule-controlled diet and lose weight. The fibre and protein in nuts help control appetite by making you feel full and satisfied. So they’re the perfect snack to tide you over until dinner.
What to look for on the label
Most nuts, including raw, dry-roasted and oil-roasted varieties, have a similar energy and fat content. It’s best to avoid those with added salt.
Despite the high kilojoule content of all nuts, studies show that we may not absorb all the energy from the fat. Nevertheless, it’s important to eat nuts in small quantities to avoid taking in excess kilojoules.
Nuts are high in fat, but it’s mostly the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. As a result, the proportion of saturated fat – the unhealthy kind – is much lower and has little effect on health. The chestnut is the only nut that is low in fat and rich in low-GI carbohydrates.
Raw nuts are low in sodium, with most having less than 10mg per 100g. Some dry-roasted and oil-roasted nuts have salt added, and should be enjoyed less often.
How many nuts should you be eating?
Stick with a handful of nuts (30-50g) most days and reap the rewards without the kilojoules. This is the equivalent of about 20 almonds, 15 cashews, 10 Brazil nuts, 4 chestnuts, 20 hazelnuts, 15 macadamias, 15 pecans, two tablespoons of pine nuts, 60 unshelled pistachios, 10 whole walnuts or 20 walnut halves, or a small handful of mixed nuts.
Nuts are a great healthy snack, especially with childhood obesity and cholesterol levels on the rise. You should serve nut butters to young children as whole nuts can cause choking. Due to the prevalence of nut allergies, many schools are now nut-free. If this is the case, don’t include nuts or sandwiches containing nut butters in children’s lunchboxes. Instead, serve them as an after-school snack or include nuts as an ingredient in your evening meal.
Healthy nuts (nutrients per 30g serve)
HFG recommends eating a handful of nuts (30-50g most days.