Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
I love to snack on nuts. They are filling, have a satisfying crunch, and are easy to grab. They are natural and wholesome, and suitable for vegetarians, vegans, and raw foodies. However, as you might guess, they come with some disadvantages as well.
What are some of the advantages of including nuts in our diet?
Nuts are high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and B, copper, selenium, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. The amount of each varies by nut.
Nuts are actually felt to help with weight loss. Nuts are indeed high in unsaturated fat (the “good” fat), which does come with calories. However, it has been shown that some nuts, like almonds, pistachios, and cashews, help to shed extra calories when eaten in moderation. Their high fiber content helps to curb appetite.
Eating nuts helps to lower LDL and total cholesterol. This is primarily due to their unsaturated fats. Some raw nuts also have higher levels of phytosterol, which helps to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Walnuts, almonds, macadamia, hazelnuts and pecans have the most. The health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids include reducing triglycerides, slowing the development of plaque in the arteries, reducing the chance of abnormal heart rhythms, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and lessening the chance of sudden cardiac death in those with heart disease.
Since nuts don’t affect insulin or glucose, they are a healthy option for diabetics. Nut butters like peanut butter have been shown to lower the risk of diabetes, particularly in women. Interestingly, almonds reduce the risk of after-meal sugar bumps.
Nuts are rich in plant proteins and dietary fiber. This makes them a healthy alternative to eating meat for protein.
What are the downsides of eating nuts?
Nuts, when consumed in large quantities, do add a lot of calories to the diet. Almonds have the lowest calorie count, at 160 calories per ounce. Of course, the calorie count depends on how they are processed. They may be coated in toffee, or fried in oils. Some are processed with preservatives, unhealthy chemicals, salt or sugar. The easiest way to keep the calorie count down is to avoid oil-roasted nuts. As always, read labels.
Nuts have high levels of oxalates. Oxalates can be a key ingredient in the formation of kidney stones.
For those prone to acne, nuts contain some oils that should be avoided.
For most of us, the pros of eating nuts far outweigh the cons. If you eat them frequently, I encourage you to stick with mostly raw, unprocessed and lightly salted nuts, and as with most things…to practice moderation.