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Should You Go Nuts? Absolutely! Nuts are Good For You

Posted in Food Policy,Food Safety,Our Blog,Science on March 4, 2019

As I sit here at my desk awaiting what is sure to be a plethora of parents for parent teacher conferences, I munch on my favorite nuts: pistachios. Being a type 2 diabetic, I’m vigilant about what I eat. (Did you know that eating a handful of pistachios after a meal can help lower blood sugar)? So I gave the food (nutrition facts) label a gander to check on serving size and its consequent carbohydrate count. Not bad: eight grams of carbohydrates per half cup serving. Low in sugar. Loaded with potassium. Nuts are good for you! I could elaborate on the nutrients from the label, but that’s for an upcoming article!

Here at Make Food Safe, the safety of the food we consume is one of our top priorities. But at times, in between the reporting of outbreaks and recalls, it’s nice to know and discuss all the wonderful food that we so love to eat.

The Nutty Professor: The Science Behind Nuts

In one of the largest studies to date, Harvard University researchers have published their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In this comprehensive study, the benefits of eating nuts were examined in light of their effect on cardiovascular health, and in the prevention of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke. In comparison with individuals who never or almost never ate nuts, those who ate an ounce of nuts five or more times per week had a fourteen (14) percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke, and twenty (20) percent lower risk of coronary heart disease during this study period. The American Heart Association recommends consuming three to seven one-ounce servings of nuts per week.

Even these small, one-ounce servings are beneficial to our bodies. They’re rich in unsaturated fats that have heart-protective qualities. They also contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, calcium and magnesium. Nuts, quite simply, are satisfying to most people. We don’t need to gorge on them to get significant benefits.

Here’s a rundown of what the consumption of nuts provide:

One ounce (28 grams) of mixed nuts contain:

  • Calories:173
  • Protein:5 grams
  • Fat:16 grams, including 9 grams of monounsaturated fat
  • Carbs:6 grams
  • Fiber:3 grams
  • Vitamin E:12% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake)
  • Magnesium: 16% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus:13% of the RDI
  • Copper:23% of the RDI
  • Manganese:26% of the RDI
  • Selenium:56% of the RDI

Nuts are a great addition to a low-carb diet, such as the Ketogenic Diet. They are high in fats (which, years ago, may have given them a bad reputation), but they’re high in the good fats. Nuts also contain antioxidants known as polyphenols that can protect cellular damage from “bad” cholesterol. They’ve also been shown to promote rather than inhibit weight loss. Even though nuts can be high in calories, your body doesn’t absorb all of them, as a portion of the fat stays trapped within the nut’s fibrous wall during digestion.

Additionally, several studies have demonstrated that blood sugar, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health markers improve when people with Type 2 diabetes include nuts in their diet. In a recent controlled study, individuals with this chronic disease who ate just under one ounce of pistachios twice per day experienced a nine (9) percent decrease, on average, of fasting blood sugar. Nuts can also reduce inflammation: your body’s defensive reaction to injury, bacteria, and other pathogens. Eating nuts may reduce inflammation and promote healthy aging. In fact, as an adjunct result of a study on the Mediterranean diet, people whose diets were supplemented with nuts experienced a thirty five (35) and ninety (90) percent in certain inflammatory markers, respectively.

Finally, the benefits for your heart and cardiovascular system are significant. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, there is recent evidence that this is indeed true. A couple of studies speak to this conclusion. In one study, again on the Mediterranean diet, it was found that people who ate nuts had a significant decline in small LDL cholesterol particles (bad), and an increase in the large (good) LDL particles. It is conjectured that the smaller LDL particles may increase heart disease risk. In another study, people with normal or high cholesterol were randomly assigned to consumer either olive oil or nuts when consuming a high-fat meal. The individuals who ate nuts had much better artery function, regardless of their initial cholesterol levels. 

Foodborne Illnesses and Nuts

Tree nuts, however, are not immune to contamination. By its very nature, the way that nuts are harvested puts them at risk for contamination because most are shaken to the ground and swept up by a machine. Before that, while on the orchard floor, nuts can come into contact with bacteria in soil or animal feces, especially on nuts that fall into a moist or damp environment. Since 1990, whole nuts have been confirmed as the source of six separate outbreaks, according to the CDC. As recently as October 2018, four thousand pounds of pistachios were recalled due to salmonella contamination.

The Best and Worst of Nuts

The lowest-calorie nuts at 160 per ounce are almonds (23 nuts; 6 grams protein, 14 grams fat); cashews (16 to 18 nuts; 5 grams protein, 13 grams fat); and pistachios (49 nuts; 6 grams protein, 13 grams fat). Avoid nuts packaged or roasted in oil; instead, eat them raw or dry roasted, as roasted nuts may have been heated in hydrogenated fats.

Those of you who are macadamia and pecan lovers: the news is not as good. For a serving of ten to twelve nuts, macadamia nuts contain 21 grams of fat. Pecans (eighteen to twenty halves) have twenty grams of fat and 200 calories, along with the lowest amounts of protein. However, the only difference between the almonds and pistachios and these nuts is only forty calories an ounce. With proper portion control, you’re still getting a good dose of healthy fats and nutrients.

Walnuts may be the best at protecting your heart. They contain alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. This may help heart arrhythmias. It’s recommended to eat about eight walnuts a day to receive this benefit. Peanuts are high in folate, a mineral that is critical for brain development. Peanuts may help prevent cognitive decline, and they are also a good choice for pregnant women and vegetarians, who may not ingest enough folate. However, the same benefit is not derived from peanut butter, as it is thought that the way many people eat peanut butter (on processed white bread and often with jelly – both full of sugar) compromises the overall benefit.

We don’t have to pick just one nut to eat. Mixed nuts provide the best variety of nutrients and antioxidants. Just be sure to purchase raw and/or unsalted.

By:  Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)