It is common knowledge that nuts are healthy. But why exactly? And should you eat them every day? Can you eat too many? In this article I will talk about the health benefits of nuts.
Nuts grow on trees. Usually, every single nut has a hard shell around it. Commonly consumed nuts include almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Peanuts are not nuts but legumes. However, their nutrition profile is very close to that of nuts so, for simplicity, peanuts often fall under the same category as tree nuts.
Nuts are sold raw (unprocessed), dry-roasted or oil-roasted. Raw nuts only contain their own nutrients. Nuts roasted in oil are processed at high temperatures and therefore contain slightly less vitamins and minerals than raw nuts. Because nuts contain a lot of healthy unsaturated fat, they do not absorb the oil in which they are roasted. Therefore, roasted nuts (whether dry-roasted or oil-roasted) have about as much fat as raw nuts.
Nuts prolong life
According to scientific studies, people who eat a small handful (about 30 g) of nuts seven or more times a week are 20 percent less likely to die for any reason than those who avoid nuts. In addition, eating nuts at least five times a week reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by almost 30 percent and death from cancer by 11 percent.
Nuts are a great source of healthy fatty acids
All nuts are characterized by a very high content of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For example, 100 grams of walnuts contain 7.5 g of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is the primary fatty acid of the Omega-3 family. Women need about 2 grams of this acid per day for optimal health, men – 3 grams. The same 100 g of walnuts contain 37 g of linoleic acid of the Omega-6 family. An adult’s need for linoleic acid averages to 6.5 grams per day.
Nuts are a good source of vitamins and minerals
Nuts contain different vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin B1, selenium, iron, manganese. Vitamin E deficiency is associated with an increased risk of infections, anaemia, stunted growth, and adverse pregnancy outcomes for both the baby and the mother. Almonds are especially rich in vitamin E: 2 tablespoons of almonds contain 35% of the daily value of this vitamin. As for selenium, Brazil nuts are the richest food source of selenium on earth. The functions of selenium are diverse. Yes, it helps maintain the normal condition of hair and nails, protects cells from oxidative stress, promotes the normal functioning of the immune system and sperm production and makes a significant contribution to the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily dose of selenium in the range of 55-70 mcg. Just one Brazil nut contains about 100 mcg of selenium!
Nuts are beneficial for heart health
There is compelling evidence that eating unsalted nuts protects against cardiovascular disease. Daily consumption of unsalted nuts seems to be associated with about a 30% lower risk of heart disease. Eating unsalted nuts also helps lower so-called “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Too much of this cholesterol type is bad for blood vessels. This positive effect of nuts is probably due to the large amount of unsaturated fats in them. But it is possible that other, not yet well-studied substances in nuts are responsible for the positive effects.
It is scientifically proven that walnuts help improve the elasticity of blood vessels. To get this positive effect, you need to eat at least 30 grams of walnuts a day. 30 grams is a small handful.
Are nuts sustainable?
Eating nuts instead of meat is better for the environment. The climate impact and energy consumption of nuts are more favorable than that of meat and comparable to that of eggs. The water consumption of nuts is somewhat high, but lower per portion than for meat. Chestnuts, peanuts, walnuts and hazelnuts are the most sustainable types of nuts. Pistachios, cashews, almonds and kola nuts are high water consumption nuts. Chestnuts, peanuts and walnuts use less water.
Hazelnut cultivation in Turkey and cashew nuts in India have been in the news due to poor working conditions. For most popular nut varieties sustainability labels are available, such as Fairtrade-Max Havelaar, which sets requirements for better working conditions.
Can you eat too many nuts?
Nuts may contain small amounts of the fungal toxin aflatoxin. But with a varied diet, the toxicity risk is small.
Nuts are very rich in calories. On average, nuts contain 600-700 kcal per 100 g. Thus, eating too many nuts potentially can lead to weight gain.
Most national healthy diet guidelines recommend eating a small handful of nuts (25-30 g) per day. However, if you are (predominantly) vegan, you can double this amount if you wish so.
How to store nuts
Store nuts in a tightly closed container in a dry place as they are susceptible to mold. If possible, keep them cool, at a temperature between 10 to 15 ° C.