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Go Nuts for Your Health

When our family practice doctors in Delray Beach advise you to consume more healthy protein, you might automatically think of lean meats and fish. But if you don’t include nuts in your diet on a regular basis, you’re missing out on an amazing food that can benefit your health in myriad ways.

 

The studies pile up

For example, a 2013 Harvard study tracked 119,000 men and women over 30 years and found that those who ate nuts every day were 20 percent less likely to die over the study period than those who never ate nuts. They were also found to have lower levels of the so-called “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and higher levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), as well as lower blood pressure. Those who ate nuts once a week were 11 percent less likely to die.

Another 2013 study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, reviewed several other studies from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia, which together totaled more than 819,000 participants. It found a 24 percent decrease in heart disease, an 18 percent drop in cancer, and an 11 percent decrease in strokes in those who ate nuts daily.

A 2008 study found that those who reported eating the most nuts daily reduced their risk of coronary artery disease by a much as 35 percent compared to people who ate few or no nuts.

And two studies done in 2014 concluded that nuts can help control blood sugar for those at risk of diabetes, or even those who already have the disease.

 

How nuts improve health

How is it possible for nuts to yield such beneficial results in so many areas of health?

Because they’re loaded with fiber, for one thing, which has been shown to steady blood sugar, lower inflammation throughout the body, help control weight, and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. They’re also high in protein, which helps control appetite and build muscle mass.

Nuts also contain: folate, which not only helps maintain a healthy brain but is critical to pregnant women; magnesium, which calms nerves, along with maintaining the calcium-potassium balance in your body; and L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, making them less prone to blood clots.

They’re also high in the omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation, and vitamin E, which reduces plaque buildup in the arteries.

 

Nut pros and cons

So what type of nuts should you eat? Any and all, including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts (which are actually a ground nut, but confer the same benefits as their tree-born cousins).

The studies also found it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits: less than a handful a day will do it. The only nut that should not be eaten in excess quantities is the brazil nut. A single brazil nut contains more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of selenium, a mineral that acts as an anti-inflammatory, helps boost the immune system, assists in thyroid function, and lowers LDL cholesterol. But more than that amount can lead to selenium poisoning which, in extreme cases, results in kidney failure, heart failure, or death. So limit intake to one brazil nut per day or less.

One unfortunate side effect of eating too many nuts is digestive disturbances. Because of their high fiber and magnesium content, introducing this food into your system too quickly can result in bloating, gas, and diarrhea. The solution, as with so many things, is moderation. Start with a few nuts and work up to a handful.

But aren’t nuts fattening? Just the opposite, it turns out, as long you don’t consume them exclusively.

Despite their relatively high-calorie count (160-200 calories per ounce), researchers at Perdue University found that nuts do not contribute to weight gain. In fact, other studies have shown that daily intake can even assist in weight loss. Nevertheless, it’s best to stick to a handful or less per day.

Although nuts are about 80% fat, it’s healthy unsaturated fat, which helps lower unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which—among other benefits—can prevent the dangerous heart rhythms that lead to heart attacks and strokes.

 

So consider introducing a few nuts into your daily diet and reap the benefits. If you’d like more information on this or any nutrition issue, we’re happy to help.

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