Thank you Margaret for your introduction. This is my first blog for Eat well Shanghai, hopefully there will be many more to come- Sophie Thomas.
Last week I attended a seminar hosted by U.S. Pecans. The seminar focused on the health benefits of eating pecans and other nuts and the growing export of nuts produced by the USA for the China market. I thought this would be an appropriate focus for this week’s blog.
Nuts consist mainly of fat, around 70% to be exact. High fat diets are obviously notorious with an expanding waistline and an increased risk of diseases associated with it. Health messages are constantly focused on reducing our intake of fat, so what makes nuts a healthy food?
A ‘healthy heart’ is a well coined phrase and a key health message for the majority of the population. Nuts, despite being a high fat food, can improve your heart’s health. Cholesterol levels and heart health are often heard in the same breath. There are two main types of cholesterol: ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The ‘good’ cholesterol (otherwise known as high density lipoprotein- HDL) plays a role in removing ‘bad’ cholesterol’ (also known as low density lipoprotein-LDL), which is the cholesterol associated with blocked arteries. In a nutshell (pun intended), increased levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and reduced levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Nuts are known to contain mainly mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids found naturally in foods are linked to increased levels of good cholesterol in the blood. Nuts contain generally very low levels of saturated fats, which are digested to produce ‘bad’ cholesterol. The British Dietetic Association recommends, ”Cutting down on saturated fat in the diet and partially replacing some of it with unsaturated fats” as “an effective way of reducing blood cholesterol.”’ BDA, 2010.
Nuts also contain other healthy heart benefits: their high fibre content can reduce the absorption of cholesterol, by carrying it out of the body. In addition nuts also contain ‘phytosterols’ a compound which helps inhibit the absorption of digested cholesterol into the blood stream. A regular intake of phytosterols can reduce bad cholesterol levels.
The benefits of nuts don’t just stop there. Nuts contain high levels of antioxidants, protecting the body from damage. As well as being an excellent vegetarian or vegan source of protein and iron.
Unfortunately despite their health benefits, eating large quantities of nuts is still high in fat and therefore a high calorie food that will increase your waistline; negating their health benefits. Remember that eating nuts with added salt, sugar and flavourings will also negatively affect their health benefits.
To solve this, portion size is key: 30g/ 1oz is considered a correct portion of plain nuts equaling approximately 150kcal.
Nuts are available in most supermarkets and individual Chinese shops. A word of warning from the US Pecan Growers Association, be aware of quality – nuts should be light and bright in colour.
So you’re nuts not to be eating them already, but don’t bite off more than you cashew!
Sabarte, J. et al. (2010) ‘Nut consumption and blood lipid levels’ Arch Intern Med. 170(9):821-827.
Mordan, W. et al. (2000) ‘Pecans lower LDL cholesterol in people with normal lipid levels’ 100(3):Pg. 312-318.
Ostlund, R. (2002) ‘Phytosterols in human nutrition’ Annual review of nutrition.22: 533-49.
British Heart Foundation,(2011) ‘Reducing your blood cholesterol’
British Dietetic association (2010) ‘Food Fact sheet- cholesterol’