By Joel Fuhrman MD
Nuts and seeds are healthy, natural foods that are full of beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals. The myth that nuts and seeds are fattening and therefore unhealthy has persisted, but according to scientists, nuts are beneficial for weight loss. In any case, it’s not the fat content of a diet that makes it healthy, it’s the nutrient content. And based on their nutrient content, nuts are a health-promoting source of calories.
Nuts and seeds are nutrient dense.
Nuts and seeds contain a spectrum of micronutrients including LDL-lowering phytosterols, circulation-promoting arginine, minerals – potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and antioxidants including flavanoids, resveratrol, tocopherols (vitamin E), and carotenoids.
Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats
High fat diets are associated with disease risk, but whole food sources of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados are not. Most of the fat content of nuts and seeds is unsaturated fat, primarily monounsaturated fats. Animal products, however are rich in saturated fats, which are known to increase cholesterol production, raising blood cholesterol levels.
Nuts also supply some omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which themselves are associated with protection from dangerously high levels of inflammation and also sudden cardiac death, reducing inflammation. Walnuts and flaxseeds are especially rich sources of the omega-3 fat ALA. With the exception of fish, animal products and oils are rich in omega-6 fats and deficient in omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are essential in our diets, but are provided in excessive quantities in animal foods and oils, which can produce an inflammatory environment in the body.
Eating nuts and seeds reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
Epidemiological studies have consistently shown that nut consumption is beneficial for heart health. Collectively, the data from the four most recent U.S. studies estimates that Americans who eat five or more servings of nuts per week have a 35% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.1 Eating nuts and seeds protects against sudden cardiac death and also reduces levels of inflammatory molecules, which is advantageous because inflammation is a chief contributor to the atherosclerotic process.(1,2) Nuts have uniquely potent LDL cholesterol lowering effects and their antioxidant content may serve to decrease oxidation of LDL, another contributor to atherosclerosis.(3)
Nuts aid weight loss
Someone who is trying to lose weight should not be trying to omit all nuts from their diet – in obese individuals, adding nuts to the diet aided in weight loss and also improved insulin sensitivity, which could help in preventing and/or reversing diabetes.(4) Nonetheless, nuts should not be eaten to excess. Vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrients so their quantities can be unlimited in a healthy diet. Nuts and seeds, however, are high in both nutrients and calories, so they should be eaten with consideration for one’s caloric needs – about 1 ounce per day is appropriate for someone who is overweight, and will be enough to provide the cardiovascular benefits discussed above. People who are not overweight could eat up to 2-4 ounces per day, depending on caloric needs.
Seeds – just like nuts, but better
Seeds contain healthy fats and minerals, but are higher in protein than nuts, and each kind has a unique nutritional profile. Flaxseeds are an extremely rich source of omega-3 fats. Sunflower seeds are especially protein- and mineral-rich. Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, calcium, and phytochemicals, and omega-3 fats. Sesame seeds have the greatest amount of calcium of any food in the world, and provide abundant amounts of vitamin E.
Nuts and seeds are best eaten raw.
Nuts and seeds should be eaten raw or only lightly toasted. Roasting nuts and seeds forms carcinogenic compounds called acrylamides, and reduces the amounts of minerals and amino acids.
Raw nuts and seeds are valuable components of a healthy diet – they provide a wide assortment of nutrients, healthy and appetite-satisfying fats, and protection against cardiovascular disease.
1. Kris-Etherton PM et al. The Role of Tree Nuts and Peanuts in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease: Multiple Potential Mechanisms. J. Nutr. 138: 1746S–1751S, 2008.
2. Salas-Salvadó J et al. The effect of nuts on inflammation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:333-6.
3. Ros E. Nuts and novel biomarkers of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1649S-56S. Epub 2009 Mar 25.
4.Rajaram S, Sabaté J. Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S79-86.Dr