In a nutshell: Portion size is everything

Known for their high percentage of fat, nuts have been excluded from many people’s diets because of a concern that they were bad for their health.

Nuts

Nuts

On the contrary, the fats in nuts are mostly mono- and polyunsaturated, which are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and in lowering LDL cholesterol.

Nuts protect the heart by supplying one of the few rich sources of vitamin E, which helps stop bad LDL cholesterol from damaging artery walls. Nuts are also chockfull of B vitamins, in particular vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3).

While vitamins B6 and folate lower blood levels of homocysteine, and thereby lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, riboflavin and niacin are necessary for the digestion of fats and the protection of the nervous system.

Healthy blood pressure can be maintained with the help of two important minerals: magnesium and potassium, both of which are abundant in all types of nuts.

If you’ve been advised to watch your sodium intake, choose unsalted nuts. If you’re watching your cholesterol, choose raw nuts over oil-roasted ones, and avoid macadamia and coconuts, as these are the highest in the unhealthy, (cholesterol-producing) saturated fat.

With all that is good in nuts, many people still avoid them because of the calories and the fear of gaining weight. But studies show that nuts may actually help satisfy hunger, helping you consume fewer calories overall. Portion control, however, is key.

Rather than eat an entire tin of nuts (which many folks out there reluctantly admit to doing in my office), sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds over hot oatmeal, cereal or spinach salad. Or, top a veggie stir fry with peanuts or cashew nuts for added taste and heart health crunch.

If you are following a low fat or low-calorie diet, you should be aware that eating too much of this health-packed food can make your healthy diet unhealthy by boosting calories and fat.

Remember that too much of a ‘good thing’ doesn’t necessarily make it a better thing for you. The bottom line here is to remember not to completely ignore this powerhouse of nutrition, but rather to enjoy nuts in moderation (no more than 3-4 tablespoons a day).

Like other plant foods, nuts are cholesterol-free, but because all nuts are high in fat (even the healthy kind) and calories, they should be eaten in moderation.

Which nuts are the best? You be the judge.

ALMONDS

High in monounsaturated fat. Good source of protein, vitamins B2 and E, calcium, iron, and zinc.

Per tablespoon: 56 calories (5 grams total fat; <1 gram saturated; 3 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

BRAZIL NUTS

Rich in protein, iron, calcium, and zinc. Contain the highest natural source of selenium.

Per tablespoon (about 2): 62 calories (6 grams total fat; 2 grams saturated; 2 grams monounsaturated; 2 grams polyunsaturated)

CASHEWS

Contain essential fatty acids, fiber, protein, carbohydrate, B vitamins, and iron and zinc.

Per tablespoon: 54 calories (4 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated; 3 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

CHESTNUTS

Although not a good source of protein, chestnuts contain potassium and less fat than most other nuts.

Per tablespoon (about 2): 35 calories (<1 grams total fat; <1 gram saturated; <1 gram monounsaturated; <1 gram polyunsaturated)

HAZELNUTS

Contain fiber, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E. A good source of protein.

Per tablespoon: 60 calories (6 grams total fat; <1 gram saturated; 5 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

PEANUTS

Technically a legume, peanuts contain more protein than most nuts and good amounts of fiber, folate, and niacin.

Per tablespoon: 53 calories (5 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated; 2 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

PECAN NUTS

Contain vitamins A and B1 (thiamin), fiber, and iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. High in both mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

Per tablespoon: 47 calories (5 grams total fat; <1 gram saturated; 3 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

PINE NUTS

High in protein, calcium, and magnesium.

Per tablespoon: 52 calories (5 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated; 2 grams monounsaturated; 2 gram polyunsaturated)

PISTACHIOS

A very rich source of potassium. Also contain calcium, magnesium, iron, fiber, and protein as well as vitamin A and folate.

Per tablespoon: 55 calories (5 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated; 3 grams monounsaturated; 1 gram polyunsaturated)

WALNUTS

Rich in folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Also high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Per tablespoon: 46 calories (4 grams total fat; <1 gram saturated; 1 grams monounsaturated; 3 gram polyunsaturated)

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