Nuts qualify as healthy snack material, so long as you follow a few rules. Covered in sugar? Dipped in chocolate? Probably not so healthy. Raw nuts with minimal salt? Bingo. Go ahead, you can eat them almost daily.
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Let’s start with the good news. Nuts are linked to everything from better heart health to less risk of diabetes. While nuts are mostly fat (up to 80% according to the Mayo Clinic), don’t let that stop you from indulging. It’s the healthy fat — that good unsaturated kind that nutritionists rave about.
Walnuts specifically are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids [source]. One cup has 10,623mg, however, you only need about 1,000mg per day at most [source]. So don’t go eating cups and cups of walnuts every day. Like most good things, nuts are only healthy in moderation and they do pose some risks.
1. Nuts are anti-disease
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that in general people who ate nuts lived longer than those who didn’t [source]. That wasn’t the first time higher nut consumption was found to lower mortality risk.
In 2015, researchers looked at over 120,000 adults and found that eating more nuts was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality as well as deaths due to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues, and neurodegenerative diseases [source]. So, nut out. You may be upping your chances of living a long, healthy life.
2. Nuts can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
One study found that eating about 67g of nuts daily (this usually comes out to 1-2 small handfuls depending on the nut) helped lower cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels [source]. Other research has discovered that pistachios specifically had the greatest effect on lowering blood pressure compared to other nuts (though not as impactful for those with type 2 diabetes) [source].
So, nuts don’t treat everyone equal. Research also shows that eating nuts may be more impactful for those with a lower BMI (body mass index). That’s why, when eating nuts to make some healthy changes, it’s important to make sure they replace other foods that are high in saturated fat, not just eat nuts in conjunction with other not-so-healthy foods.
3. Nuts are good for your heart health
Because nuts are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, eating them regularly has been shown to lower your risk of a heart attack and death from heart disease. In one study, researchers paired a Mediterranean diet with 30 grams of mixed nuts daily and found that it was more effective at preventing metabolic syndrome than a Mediterranean diet and olive oil alone [source].
So which nuts are best? According to the Harvard School of Public Health, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are some of the most heart-healthy. Though additionally, as mentioned earlier, pistachios have been linked to lower blood pressure, and walnuts are thought to reduce plaque build-up in your arteries.
4. Nuts are high in fiber
Fiber is your friend. Though commonly associated with your, digestion, fiber also helps control blood sugar and cholesterol according to the Mayo Clinic. The American Heart Association recommends eating 25-35 grams of fiber per day, but most Americans hover more around 15 grams per day [source].
Nuts are one way to tick that number up. One cup of pecans has 10g of fiber per cup while one cup of almonds delivers 13 grams of fiber (though experts say still stick to a 1-2 ounce serving to keep calories down, which is about a 1/3 cup depending on the size of the nut).
5. Nuts might help with type 2 diabetes
Several studies have shown that eating more polyunsaturated fats may help control blood sugar and therefore reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In one of the most recent reviews of these studies, researchers concluded that more studies need to be done to say anything definite [source]. About 50% of the science says yes, eating a variety of nuts helps while the other 50% says no, it doesn’t (though the researches pointed out it may be due to inappropriate control groups).
What’s the risk of eating nuts?
Their downfall? Nuts are high in calories (keeping with the walnut example, 1 cup has 765 calories). You can imagine how easy it might be to blow past average daily calorie intake — once you pop, can’t stop.
Despite high-calorie content, most research says you’re doing your health a favor by consuming raw or dry roasted nuts without added salt. Dry roasted nuts will have a more enhanced flavor and have similar nutrient content to raw nuts as long as they’re roasted at low to medium temperatures (to avoid oxidation and damaging the healthy fat).
As for nut allergies…
They’ve become a lot more common. The Food Allergy Research and Education organization estimates that 30 million Americans have food allergies and about 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food annually. So, it’s not something to take likely. The peanut allergy is one of the most prevalent, and if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’re also 25% to 40% likely to have tree nut allergies. You can find a list of symptoms here.
How often should I eat nuts?
By the standards of the American Heart Association, those of us without nut allergies should be eating four 1.5-ounce servings of whole nuts per week or 2 tablespoons of nut butter per week For whole nuts, this comes out to about one small handful, varying slightly depending on the type. (Double duty tip: 1 ounce of almonds also fulfills 48% of your daily value of vitamin E) [source].