Nuts and Health

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Nuts and Health

Last year everyone was talking about how good nuts are for diabetes. This year they’re just as good, and new research shows it. If you aren’t eating lots of nuts yet, I’m going to try to get you started.

Nuts are great because they are seeds and fruit combined. They are literally full of life. According to Wikipedia, while fruit seeds are separate from the fruit itself, in nuts (according to the botanical definition of the term), the seeds and fruit (which the seed will use to grow if planted) are bound up together, making them among the most nutritious foods on the planet.

A new study of 16,000 people in the journal Circulation Research found that “Higher consumption of nuts, especially tree nuts, is associated with lower CVD [heart disease] incidence and mortality among participants with diabetes mellitus. These data support [eating nuts] for the prevention of CVD complications and premature deaths among individuals with diabetes.”  

Previous research from Louisiana State University (LSU) found that people who regularly eat tree nuts — including almonds, macadamias, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews — have lower risks for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Their C-reactive protein (a major marker of inflammation) levels were lower. Their HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels were higher.

According to The Huffington Post, the LSU study was funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation. Study results often show what the funders wanted them to show, but I tend to believe this one. It appeared in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition and was based on analyzing data from NHANES, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the gold standard for this kind of study in the U.S.

This research confirms dozens of other studies. As Editor Diane Fennell wrote in 2011, “Nuts are well known for their nutritional benefits, including their high levels of heart-healthy fats, protein, antioxidants…, plant sterols (natural substances found in plants that can help lower cholesterol), fiber and minerals.”

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Amy Campbell explained in this article that nuts are good because they have high levels of healthy unsaturated fats, which helps lower levels of LDL “bad cholesterol.”

About pecans, she wrote, “Pecans are a good source of several minerals, including potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as the B vitamins.” Other nuts are also high in nutrients.

Unfortunately, some people are allergic to nuts, and those allergies can be severe, even fatal. If you have questions about nut allergies, see here.

Questions about nuts

• Aren’t they too expensive? On the Raw Food Talk discussion group, a reader posted that prices for organic almonds, walnuts, and cashews ran from $13 to $16 per pound. “Just a pound!!!,” he wrote (exclamation points his.) “I eat a pound in two days.”

Readers commented on several ways to reduce costs, including buying in bulk, buying bags of broken pieces, or buying larger quantities of nuts and freezing them in sealed bags. Some suggested buying from farmers directly. Also, if you shop around, you may find that certain nuts are cheaper than others at different times of year.

• Other sites point out that you can get benefits very similar to nuts by eating seeds, like pumpkin, sesame or sunflower seeds. If you look at the nutritional content of seeds and nuts on a site like this one, you’ll see that nuts and seeds are very similar. You can see a comparison of nine popular nuts here.

• What about nut and seed butters? Are they as good as the whole nuts/seeds? People seem to disagree about this. Some think butters are too processed or too fatty, but I think nut butters or seed butters are great foods. They taste good and can be added to fruits or bread and used in cooking. All nut butters are nutritionally similar. But they are processed, some more than others. Most likely eating whole nuts or seeds might be more nutritious, although you’ll have to check the labels.

• What about peanuts? You may know they aren’t really nuts; they’re legumes. But as I wrote here, legumes are great for you, too. Peanuts are also considered to be seeds. I don’t really see much difference with between peanuts and tree nuts.

• Some believe that raw nuts are far better than roasted nuts, which are what is mostly available in stores.

Holistic health advocate Jared Six wrote,

When you take something like almonds and you roast them at 350 degrees and then you dip them in salt, you have taken one of the healthiest foods on the planet and reduced it to a junk food!

Perhaps Six is overstating the case, but there may be something to this. To me, eating nuts is like taking in pure life force, so it might be best to eat them raw (raw butter is still raw to me.)

In promoting raw seeds and nuts, Six wrote,

Some seeds are so tough and resilient that you could literally take a hand full of them and throw them off the top of a skyscraper to the concrete road below, then run over them with a school bus, and then sweep them up and throw them off a bridge into a river below. When they hit the water they will simply float to the next shore and sprout and grow once they get there!

Do you want some of that energy in your body? I do. So are you eating nuts yet?

Want to learn more about nuts and diabetes? Read “Boost Your Health With the World’s Most Nutritious Nut,” “Pass the Pecans, Please!” “Eating Nuts May Lengthen Life,” “Going Nuts for Diabetes Control” and “Going Nuts for Peanuts,” then try our recipe for Hot and Spicy Nuts.

Originally Published May 9, 2012

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