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Going Nuts
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Recently, a number of human studies reported that a frequent consumption of nuts was associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. In the Adventist Health Study, people who ate nuts one to four times per week had a 25 percent reduced risk of heart disease while those who ate nuts five or more times a week experienced a 50 percent reduction in risk compared to people who ate nuts less than once a week. Furthermore, in the Nurses Health Study women who ate nuts frequently (five or more times/week) had a 39 percent lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease compared with those rarely eating nuts.

As a result, the FDA approved, in 2003, a claim for some nuts to be designated as preventing heart disease. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts were all given the green light since they contain only one to two grams of saturated fat per ounce. On the other hand, Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamia nuts, which have three to five grams of saturated fat per ounce, did not receive the FDA approval. All nuts have substantial levels of healthy unsaturated fat, while no nut has been proven to be better than another.

Clinical trials have also demonstrated the effectiveness of diets containing about two ounces of almonds, pecans, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, or walnuts to significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels about 10 to 15 percent. Furthermore, Harvard scientists observed that a consumption of nuts or peanut butter five or more times a week was associated with a 20 to 25 percent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The Benefits of Nuts

If nuts are so healthy what about all of the fat and calories they contain? One ounce of nuts typically provides about 160 to 200 calories. But it takes 22 almonds, 46 pistachios, 18 pecan halves, or 18 cashews to make an ounce of nuts. While the majority of calories in nuts come from fat, about 60 to 80 percent of the fat is monounsaturated fat which produces a favorable effect upon both the blood lipid levels and blood glucose levels. The fat profile of walnuts is somewhat different, since walnuts contain a rich content of omega-3 fat. This makes walnuts useful for lowering triglycerides and the risk of stroke.

Nuts also contain a significant level of potassium, magnesium, folic acid, copper, and dietary fiber which are all important for cardiovascular health. In addition, most nuts contain significant levels of vitamin E, as well as phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phytosterols, and tocotrienols, substances known to provide protection against cancer and heart disease.

To secure the health benefits of nuts, Americans should increase their consumption of nuts to about an ounce a day, four to five times a week.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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