Living a long and healthy life is a priority for almost everyone. As such, there are certain foods that are great for keeping you energized, full and fighting fit. Nuts, though they sometimes get a bad reputation for being fattening, are a great, healthy food.
So here are five reasons based on recent scientific studies you might want to include a portion of nuts in your daily diet.
1) Eating Nuts Might Help You Live Longer
While a number of studies have linked frequent nut consumption with a variety of specific health benefits (more on that below), few studies have attempted to assess what impact a daily serving of nuts might have on how long people live. That is, until now.
In an analysis of two large U.S. studies, researchers writing in The New England Journal of Medicine found that those who ate a serving of nuts seven or more times per week for 30 years had a 20% lower death rate, even adjusting for health factors like other dietary practices.
It’s important to note this study only shows a possible link and not a concrete fact. Furthermore, there was also no control on what nuts should be consumed or how they should be prepared — roasted, salted, spiced or raw. Yet, what this does suggest is that nuts, if eaten in moderation, certainly aren’t a factor that is likely to increase chances of mortality.
While the study doesn’t give guidelines for nut consumption, the American Heart Association recommends eating four 1.5-ounce servings (roughly a handful) of raw unsalted nuts per week.
2) Nuts May Help Keep Blood Sugar Steady
A big part of learning to control our eating habits can be making sure our blood sugar stays even so that we don’t end up craving high sugar and high fat foods. Choosing foods that don’t spike our insulin levels can help with that task.
Studies, for instance this study into the glycemic profile of nuts and this small study into nut consumption among diabetics, have shown that raw nuts might be a particularly good choice as a snack food precisely because they have a lot of nutrients but don’t spike sugar levels.
As with most scientific research, more exploration of this topic is needed but there is a significant body of research pointing to nuts being a good snack food choice.
3) Walnuts Can Help to Manage Stress Effects
Feeling the pressure as we go into the festive season? Research suggests that having a handful of walnuts might help to take the edge off. That’s because walnuts are rich in a type of Omega 3 fatty acid that has been shown to ease our cardiovascular stress response and keep blood pressure low.
The researchers found that both regular consumption of raw walnuts and using walnut oil lowered resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress in a laboratory setting. To give you an idea of how much you should be eating, the average portion size in this study was 9 whole walnuts (about 1.9 ounces) daily.
4) Nuts Can Help Lower Cholesterol
As well as helping to control blood pressure, raw nuts of several types are associated with lowering bad cholesterol levels. A 2010 meta-analysis of 25 studies showed that eating a small bag of nuts every day (about 2.3 ounces) was associated with a cholesterol level about 7.4% lower than those who didn’t eat nuts. Those who regularly ate nuts also demonstrated a reduction in triglycerides and, as a result, had a lower heart disease risk.
5) Nuts Can Help to Fight Dementia
A recent study from researchers in Spain showed an association with eating a diet rich in nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) and a lower risk of developing dementia. The research was part of a larger investigation into the possible benefits of a so-called Mediterranean Diet. The results of this study come from a larger randomized investigation into the possible benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, a diet rich in nuts and extra virgin olive oil as well as salads, lean meat, fish, and moderate red wine consumption. The benefits are still the subject of quite a bit of scientific investigation, but a number of studies have demonstrated a lower risk of heart disease, better longevity and mobility, as well as reducing risks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Bonus: Nuts Don’t Make You Fat
While it is true that nuts are nutrient dense and high in calories, studies have shown that if eaten in moderation, nuts don’t actually significantly increase body fat.
In fact, swapping fatty or high sugar snacks for nuts can help make sure you’re not adding on the pounds and also bring with it a host of other benefits like helping to stave off diabetes. If you don’t like raw nuts, there are ways to still see these benefits. Nut oils can be one good substitute, though make sure to get a good quality product. Also, including nuts in recipes like a pesto sauce can be one way of getting in a daily serving without having to eat them by the handful.
If you’re strapped for cash (aren’t we all) and want to know which one nut is going to give you the health boost you desire, walnuts appear to be a particularly good choice as they are a source of those all important good fats.
Sourcing Nuts: Ethical Concerns
For those concerned about ensuring workers who are involved in the sourcing of nuts being given a fair wage, and want to ensure that the nuts we eat aren’t coming at the expense of the environment, there are a number of guides that can be used to check that the nuts you eat are ethical.
The Ethical Buyer’s Guide is a UK site that rates products according to a variety of ethical criteria. While access to the wider website does require a subscription, individual pages can be accessed and the guide to nuts appears here.
There are also a number of online stores that can help ensure that your nuts are ethical and also GMO and pesticide free, if these issues also concern you.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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