While nuts make for a tasty snack, they are also a great source of nutrients that are linked to better health. In January 2022, the American College of Cardiology reported that nuts contain healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, and regular nut consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 14%. Not only that but a meta review of data from 22 published studies found that a high intake of nuts may offer neuroprotective benefits to individuals at elevated risk for cognitive decline. Another study reported that children born to mothers who ate over 2.5 ounces of nuts per week during pregnancy scored considerably higher on tests of sustained attention, working memory, and IQ than kids whose mothers ate fewer nuts. Let’s take a look at some of the nutrients found in nuts that offer these various benefits…
Nuts are rich in healthy unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), which lower bad cholesterol levels, as well as omega 3-fatty acids which have been found to reduce and/or prevent irregular heart rhythms that can result in heart attacks. Nuts also contain fiber that makes us feel full so we in turn, eat less. Fiber also plays a role in preventing type 2 diabetes. Nuts contain vitamin E that helps reduce plaque build-up in the arteries, which can cause them to narrow and lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease, and heart attack. Certain nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can lower cholesterol. Nuts are also a source of L-arginine, which improves the health of the artery wall by making them more flexible and less likely to form blood clots that can block blood flow.
Because up to 80% of a nut is fat, which contains more calories than proteins and carbs, moderation is recommended to avoid excessive calorie intake. The American Heart Association recommends eating about four servings of nuts per week—preferably dry roasted or raw nuts rather than those cooked in oil. One serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter.
Nut oils are a good source of healthy nutrients but lack the fiber found in whole nuts. These oils work well as homemade dressing for salads or cooking; however, it’s important to note that nut oils react differently to heat than the vegetable oils we may be more familiar with, and they can become bitter when overheated.
In addition to reducing the risk for chronic disease, the anti-inflammatory properties of nuts can help to reduce one’s risk for chronic pain and assist in the healing process when a musculoskeletal injury occurs.