Health Benefits of Nuts
Health Benefits of Nut Consumption
Nuts are a nutritionally rich food, containing most of the vitamins and minerals the body needs. They’re one of the main sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, offering a range of health benefits from reducing rheumatoid arthritis to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia. The American Heart Association recommends eating four 1.5-ounce (about a handful) servings of unsalted, unoiled nuts per week, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that eating 1.5 ounces of nuts per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.
1. Rich in protective antioxidants
Walnut tart with slice cut
Nuts contain compounds called polyphenols which have a protective effect in the body – they do so by helping to neutralise unstable molecules called free radicals which can cause damage.
A study looking at the protective effect of walnuts and almonds suggested their polyphenol content increased antioxidant capacity which in turn helped to protect cells from damage.
2. Supports gut health
Nuts are a good source of fibre, with almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans being among the richest. Evidence suggests that a diet rich in fibre is associated with a lower risk of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Increasing fibre in your diet can also support and regulate your digestive function.
The polyphenols in nuts also help to keep our guts healthy by benefiting the good bacteria that reside there – they do this by fuelling the bacteria, helping them grow and increase in number. In turn certain bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which provide numerous benefits for both our gut and our wider health.
3. May aid weight management
Granola in bowl with milk and fruit
Nuts contain a number of nutrients and phytochemicals that we find difficult to digest, and this results in us being unable to absorb approximately 5 -15% of the calories in nuts. This explains why consuming a modest amount, such as a small handful of nuts, is inversely associated with body mass index (BMI).
This was illustrated by research which found that consuming nuts, in this case 55g of almonds, as part of a healthy diet had limited risk of weight gain. A study from 2013 also concluded that almonds, when consumed as a snack, help to reduce hunger.
4. High in fats
With the exception of chestnuts, nuts are a high fat food, with levels ranging from 46% in cashews and pistachio to 76% in macadamias. However, the type of fats are those which have proven benefits to health, being low in saturated fat, with higher levels of the heart-friendly mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats.
Walnuts are worthy of special mention because they have the highest content of the short chain omega-3 essential fatty acid, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), of all edible plants, making them a useful inclusion for those following a plant-focused diet.
5. Supports heart health
Including nuts in your diet has been associated with improved heart health. This is because consuming nuts helps maintain the health of the lining of the arteries, balances cholesterol and reduces the build-up of deposits called plaques, while also lowering the risk of blood clots.
The reasons why nuts support heart health are numerous, and include their beneficial fat profile being predominantly mono and poly-unsaturated, their fibre content, the existence of phytosterols as well as contributions of proteins such as l-arginine, which help relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure.