Nuts Are a Healthy Snack
For many Americans, snacking between meals is a way of life. Unfortunately, most of the foods that we choose to snack on aren't all that good for us.
Chips, crackers and candy bars may banish hunger pangs, but when it comes to satisfying our bodies' nutritional needs, they leave a lot to be desired. Most of these snack foods offer very little in the way of beneficial nutrients.
For folks in search of a snack food that not only satisfies hunger, but also contributes to good health, nuts are an excellent choice. The tasty nuggets are packed with vitamins, minerals and protein.
Ounce for ounce, nuts contain nearly as much protein as lean meat, but unlike animal sources of protein, nuts are naturally cholesterol free and high in fiber. Twenty-four almonds contain a little more than three grams of fiber, about the same amount of roughage as an unpeeled apple.
There's no doubt that nuts are relatively high in fat, but the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in nuts are the friendly types that are known to have dozens of important health benefits. Not only do they serve as a concentrated source of energy, they also supply the body with essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.
Although nuts may have been underappreciated in the past, recent research has elevated them to super-food status. Consuming small quantities of nuts on a regular basis has been shown to reduce the risk for a number of common ailments and chronic diseases, ranging from constipation to cancer.
Over the past two decades, numerous studies have concluded that people who regularly eat nuts have significantly lower rates of heart disease than people who don't. After following the dietary habits of more than 86,000 women for 14 years, Harvard researchers found that women consuming five ounces of nuts each week had a 35 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who consumed less than one ounce per week.
Scientists at Loma Linda University also found a strong link between nuts and cardiovascular health. In a study of nearly 30,000 adults, men and women who ate two ounces of nuts four or five times a week were 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who ate nuts less often than once a week.
The cardio-protective effect of nuts is thought to be due primarily to their cholesterol-lowering properties. Regular consumption of walnuts has been shown to increase levels of heart- healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, while diets rich in almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans appear to reduce levels of unfavorable, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
In addition to improving cholesterol profiles, nuts may ward off cardiovascular disease in a number of other ways.
Research suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts not only help prevent abnormal heart rhythms, they also reduce the risk of developing blood clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Nuts are rich in arginine, an amino acid required by the body to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps reduce the workload of the heart by relaxing constricted blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and enhancing blood flow throughout the circulatory system.
While the cardiovascular benefits of eating nuts have been well established, newer research suggests that regular consumption of nuts may significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In 2002, Harvard scientists reported that women who ate one ounce of nuts at least five times weekly had a 27 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than women who rarely or never consumed nuts.
Nuts are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, nature's cancer- fighting compounds. The results of two large studies have linked regular nut consumption in men with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
Although nuts are relatively high in calories, they are known to be beneficial in promoting weight loss, rather than weight gain. In a study of overweight adults, volunteers who ate three ounces of almonds daily for six months lost 62 percent more weight than volunteers who ate a nut-free diet with an equal number of calories.
Dr. Rallie McAllister is a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn.