This week I have been hanging around with some friends who have decided to make 2014 the year of “eating healthier”. As you can imagine much of our discussion, over a meal of delicious meat-less meatballs, centered on ways they could improve on the changes they had already made. ” What is the best nut to eat?” came into the conversation, followed by ” He is trying to get me to eat pistachios.” I immediately fell into my dietitian mode and explained that, although a nut hierarchy exists, all nuts are good and some are better than others and just eat two handfuls a day and you will be good.
Later I was thinking about my not too detailed answer to their very specific question and I wanted to know more besides “walnuts are the best”. Every cardiac diet discussion includes talking about nuts ( or it should). That is because some nuts, not all, contain good amounts of omega 3’s, a very heart healthy fat that studies show helps reduce the risk of heart disease. So lets start there, are walnuts the best for omega 3’s? Short answer is yes, they are the BEST.
In terms of omega 3’s the top 3 nuts are:
1.Walnuts 2.Pecans 3.Pistachios Surprisingly, considering all the promotion that almonds get, almonds are low on the omega 3 list, at #9 right before peanuts. Turns out peanuts don’t have enough omega 3’s to be counted, however they are #1 when it comes to protein.
Seems not all nuts are created equal but all have something to offer. Studies on the health benefits of nuts abound. In 2010 the NCBI put out a paper on the Health Benefits of Nuts, stating that the frequent eating of nuts decreases cardiovascular risk and gallstones in men and women and reduces the risk of diabetes in women. Other studies have found that eating nuts has an inverse association with BMI. In other words despite the fact that nuts are high in fat, people who eat them seem to have lower BMI’s. The calorie content of nuts does not seem to affect people’s weight and in some cases may help with weight loss. This makes perfect sense to me because the protein and fat content of nuts makes them a satisfying, crunchy snack.
We know that walnuts are the best bet for omega 3’s but what about pistachios, should my friend’s husband make her eat them ?Turns out pistachios made it to the top 3 in several categories, including fiber, iron, omega 3’s and protein. So yes her husband is right, she should eat pistachios
And what about the ubiquitous almond? Almonds are not high in the heart healthy omega 3’s but they are tops in Vitamin E, protein and fiber, all important in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
What was most interesting to me about nuts, is that they all contained substances that are important to a well functioning circulatory system, of which your heart is the center. The minerals manganese, copper and iron are little thought of but these minerals play vital roles in the formation of healthy blood and bones as well as helping to regulate metabolism and you can find them in ample amounts in a little nut.
All nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts ,hazelnuts, cashews ,pecans, pine nuts, macadamias and our old friend Mr. Peanut are good sources of antioxidants, substances that reduce inflammation ( the underlying cause of many a chronic disease).
So , in a nutshell ( sorry I just had to say that!) my original advice remains the same. Eat two handfuls of mixed nuts a day to keep doctors and dietitians away!
Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!