This is the Part 3 in our three part series about nature’s healthiest superfoods.
In Part 2, we presented seven superstar fruits for your health, and in Part 1, we focused on
the most nutritious veggies,
Nuts earned a bad reputation in the United States during the low-fat craze of the ‘90s. It was during this time that many Americans shunned nuts simply because of their relatively high fat content … amid false fears that these nutritional powerhouses would make us fat.
Fortunately, the low-fat craze has ended, and it’s now becoming common knowledge that healthy fats are not only okay to include in your diet, they’re essential for keeping you well.
Nuts contain two types of “good” fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — that may help to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Research also suggests that nuts may be beneficial for the lining of your arteries while helping to lower your risk of developing blood clots that could lead to a heart attack. 1
In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even approved the following health claim for certain nut packages:
“Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.2”
For you nut lovers out there, this is great news because it means you can enjoy nuts completely guilt-free, and better yet, knowing you’re making a smart snacking choice.
When it comes to types of nuts, you really can’t go wrong. Each contains a slightly different nutritional content — all of which are great for your health. However, there are a handful (no pun intended!) that stand out above the rest.
As the third and final part of our series on functional foods that can benefit your family’s health, we’ve narrowed down the cream of the crop — nut crop, that is — to help your family get the most nutrition out of each bite-sized package.
The 5 Healthiest Nuts
- The walnut is, hands down, one of the best nuts to eat, and that is largely because of its high content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat. Just one-quarter cup of walnuts gives you nearly 91 percent of the recommended daily value for this healthy fat.
- Your body cannot make omega-3 fats on its own, which is why it’s so important to include omega-3-rich foods in your diet. Aside from helping to protect against heart disease and stroke, omega-3 fats have been found to offer protection against wide range of illnesses, from cancer and rheumatoid arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease and depression.
- Walnuts also contain ellagic acid, an antioxidant that is beneficial for your immune system and appears to have anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that ellagic acid helps prevent cancer-causing substances from binding to DNA, scavenges and “binds to” cancer-causing chemicals to inactive them and promotes cell death of cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
- Walnuts even contain melatonin, a hormone produced by your pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep and also offers potent antioxidant benefits. Eating walnuts, researchers found, increases your levels of melatonin along with its antioxidant activity in your body.
- Almonds are an excellent source of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats. Plus, they offer unique benefits for your blood sugar levels.
- When eaten with a meal, almonds may help to lower surges in your blood sugar and insulin levels, a mechanism that may help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Eating almonds also leads to increases in antioxidant levels that may help to fight damage from free radicals.
- The benefits to blood sugar levels hold true even when almonds are eaten with a food that normally prompts your blood sugar to spike, such as bread. One study found that when almonds were eaten with bread (a high-glycemic index food), it reduced the glycemic index of the meal.
- What this means is that if you spread some almond butter on your toast in the morning, it will lessen the bread’s impact on your blood sugar levels — a very nice benefit for your health!
- Further, research has shown that eating almonds can actually help you lose weight. In a study of 65 overweight or obese adults, those who ate a low-calorie diet supplemented with almonds lost 7 percent more weight and had a 5 percent greater reduction in waist circumference than those whose diet was supplemented with complex carbs.
- Pecans needn’t be limited to your yearly slice of pecan pie at Thanksgiving, as, like other nuts, they offer a slew of health benefits.
- Among the most significant are high levels of antioxidants, including vitamin E. As a result, research shows that eating a handful of pecans a day helps to stop oxidation of blood lipids, which may help to prevent coronary heart disease.
- Pecans actually rank highest in antioxidant content among all nuts, which means they may be beneficial for lowering your risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- They also contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin A, folic acid and magnesium, making them a smart snacking choice.
- Cashews have a lower fat content than most nuts, and the fat they do contain is extremely healthy. About 75 percent is comprised of oleic acid, the same type of heart-healthy fat found in olive oil.
- Cashews are also a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that plays a crucial role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, including maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, regulating heart rhythm and blood sugar levels, promoting normal blood pressure, supporting your immune system and keeping your bones strong.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, “substantial numbers” of Americans do not get the recommended amounts of this important nutrient, and therefore may be missing out on important health benefits.
- Fortunately, eating about 1 ounce of cashews provides 75 milligrams, or 20 percent of the daily recommended value, of magnesium, so eating cashews is a simple way to boost your intake (almonds also contain a similar amount of magnesium).
5. Macadamia Nuts
- This Hawaiian staple is often considered a decadent treat, but there’s reason to add them to your regular diet. Macadamias contain 78 percent heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which is the highest of any oil, including olive oil.
- Studies show that despite their high fat content, eating macadamia nuts helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and may help to prevent coronary artery disease.
- They are also one of the few foods to contain palmitoleic acid, which preliminary research suggests may play a role in fat metabolism and helping to reduce stored body fat.
More Tips for Adding Nuts to Your Diet
When it comes to nuts, don’t let their size fool you — because they’re so packed with healthy fats and nutrients, a little bit goes a long way. A small handful, or about 1.5 ounces a day, is all you need to reap the benefits.
Keep in mind, too, that nuts are perishable and easily damaged by heat, air and light. This is especially true for nuts that contain omega-3 fats, such as walnuts.
To ensure your nuts are as fresh as can be, avoid purchasing them from bulk bins unless you know they have a high turnover rate, and do not leave nuts sitting in a hot car. Once home, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or even the freezer.
Further, due to their perishable nature, nuts that have been roasted using oil may contain rancid or damaged fats that are not healthy for your heart. For best results, look for nuts that are either raw or only lightly roasted (at temperatures no higher than 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit).17
Now that you’re armed with the latest research, you no longer have to worry that the handful of nuts you crave is sabotaging your diet. On the contrary, a serving of nuts a day may very well help to keep the doctor away!
1. MayoClinic.com, “Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health” June 5, 2009
2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Appendix D: Qualified Health Claims April 2008
3. World’s Healthiest Foods, Walnuts
4. Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”
5. Ellagic-research.org Clinical References
6. Nutrition. 2005 Sep;21(9):920-4.
7. Journal of Nutrition. 136:2987-2992, December 2006
8. Metabolism. 2007 Mar;56(3):400-4.
9. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Nov;27(11):1365-72.
10. Nutrition Research. Volume 26, Issue 8, August 2006, Pages 397-402.
11. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2004, 52 (12), pp 4026–4037.
12. World’s Healthiest Foods Cashews.
13. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium.
14. Maloha.com Health Benefits.
15. Lipids Volume 42, Number 6 / June, 2007.
16. ScienceNOW. “Fat Molecule Fights Weight Gain” September 19, 2008.
17. World’s Healthiest Foods: How the healthy fats in nuts help protect against cardiovascular disease.