Nuts are a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and both monounsaturated and omega-3 oils that have numerous beneficial effects on blood fats, blood pressure and glucose control.
Nuts lower cholesterol
When the results from 61 different trials, involving 2,582 people were crunched, eating tree nuts (walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts) was shown to have immense benefits on health – assuming you are not allergic to them, of course. Calculations showed that each one ounce serving (28.4 g) of nuts per day can lower your total cholesterol by 4.7 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol by 4.8 mg/dL, ApoB (another ‘bad’ blood fat) by 3.7 mg/dL, and triglycerides by 2.2 mg/dL. The effects were even stronger in people with type 2 diabetes.
Another recent study looked at the effects of following a Mediterranean-style diet enriched with a daily serving of 30g mixed nuts made up of 15g walnuts, 7.5g almonds and 7.5g hazelnuts. This provided what the researchers described as ‘first-class evidence’ that regular consumption of nuts is associated with:
- a 50 % lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- a 30 % lower risk of experiencing a heart attack
- a nearly 50% reduction in the risk of stroke.
The major determinant of cholesterol lowering appears to be nut dose rather than nut type. I don’t know about you, but it seems immensely sensible to double that intake of 30g nuts per day to 60g of nuts, to obtain twice the benefits!
Other studies show that eating nuts can lower blood pressure (especially pistachios), and reduce fat storage around the waistline (visceral fat) due to beneficial effects on insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which might even prevent type 2 diabetes.
Nuts and type 2 diabetes
If you already have type 2 diabetes, then definitely eat more nuts as a snack in place of carbohydrate-rich foods. That’s the message from the latest study that looked at the effects of eating a handful of nuts per day on blood sugar and cholesterol levels in 108 people with type 2 diabetes.
For three months, each volunteer ate either:
- 75g of mixed nuts (unsalted and mostly raw almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans,hazelnuts, peanuts, cashews and macadamia)
- 38g of mixed nuts and half a whole-wheat muffin
- A full whole-wheat muffin with no extra nuts.
Each option supplied a similar amount of calories, but those eating nuts obtain more unsaturated fat and less carbohydrate overall.
Compared with those eating the whole muffin, eating 75g of nuts produced significant improvements in glucose control (HbA1c reduced by −2.0 mmol/mol, and reductions in total cholesterol (−0.25 mmol/l) and non-HDL-cholesterol (−0.26 mmol/l).
This supports the results from seven other studies which show that almonds are particularly food for people with type 2 diabetes. In one 12 week study, adding 60 grams of almonds to the daily diet improved glucose control, cholesterol balance and lowered levels of inflammation in the body.
Nuts don’t increase weight gain
Despite what you might expect, eating more nuts is not associated with weight gain – partly due to the metabolic effects of monounsaturated fat, and partly due to their high protein and fibre content which suppress appetite so you tend to eat less overall.
While you’re browsing the nut selections to pick your healthy snacks, don’t forget that those which are enrobed in high quality dark chocolate, provide additional cacao antioxidants which also have beneficial effects on health.
What’s not to like? Yet, in a study looking at dietary intakes across ten European countries, only 4.4% of almost 37,000 people reported eating tree nuts over the previous twenty-four hours.
Whatever you do, avoid salted nuts like the plague as the salt will offset any of the cardiovascular benefits by promoting fluid retention and raised blood pressure.
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