Nuts are generally considered bad choices for snacks because they're so high in calories. It is why experts recommend avoiding cakes or desserts containing a high content of them, and why many of us keep them out of our diets.
But in recent years, more and more information has been indicating the tremendous benefits nuts have on improving health. The most encouraging report showed that adding nuts to your diet either prevented weight gain or promoted weight loss. Researchers have found dieters who consume an ounce of nuts daily are more likely to eat less at supper and, therefore, lose weight.
And now, from a large population study, comes remarkable evidence that nut consumption reduces the risk of heart disease in both men and women by as much as 50 percent. The benefit is so impressive that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a proposal to allow foods containing nuts to state on their labels: "Diets containing an ounce of nuts per day can reduce your risk of heart disease."
A massive study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that increasing nut intake also reduces the risk of many chronic illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. It appears to reduce risk of death, too.
Researchers followed over 75,000 women from 1980 to 2010, and over 40,000 men from 1986 to 2010. Over the 30-year period, compared to those who never ate nuts, those who did once weekly had a 7 percent lower risk of dying, gradually reducing risk even more as they consumed more nuts. For those eating nuts at least once a day, the risk of death was lowered by a remarkable 20 percent. And further analysis revealed significant reductions in the risk of heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, infections and cancer.
There was some concern at the outset of the study that daily nut consumption could lead to weight gain. The exact opposite turned out to be the case. Those eating nuts most frequently either maintained their weight or lost weight during the course of the study. Nut-eaters were overall healthier: They were less likely to be obese, had lower waist circumferences, lower cholesterols and blood-sugar levels than their counterparts not eating nuts. They also ate less, consumed more fruits and vegetables, and exercised more regularly. For this reason, it's unclear whether the found benefits of nuts were a result of people committed to healthier lifestyles and living longer being less concerned about their weights and, hence, more likely to eat nuts.
There are many ways nuts promote health. They contain the best polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibers, and have high concentrations of antioxidants (phenols and phytosterols).
Most experts recommend having an ounce of nuts as a snack in the afternoon and about two to three hours before dinner. They are calorically dense and take a long time to chew. This, in turn, helps promote satiety, as does their high calorie content. Nuts' high level of fiber also makes you feel full and less hungry at dinnertime. Nuts make it easier to eat prudently, limiting your risk of becoming obese and making a diet program more likely to be successful.
Nuts reduce the risk of heart attacks in a number of ways. Monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids tend to lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of blood clotting. High concentrations of the amino acid arginine promote blood flow, dilate blood vessels and help maintain a lower blood pressure. And high fiber content reduces cholesterol and appears to decrease the risk of diabetes. High fiber and healthy fats in nuts also promote better gastrointestinal function and decrease the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers.
Like an apple a day, an ounce of nuts will almost certainly keep the doctor away. The most important message you can extract from this information is that the best approach to dieting is not necessarily the consumption of low-calorie foods, but that learning to make the right food choices and eating in the right amounts will lead to a long and healthy life.
Dr. David Lipschitz's weekly column, "Lifelong Health," is available at creators.com.