Nuts – Their Nutritional Benefits

A squirrel on a tree boll eating some nuts.
Squirrel enjoying nuts. Photo by artemisphotos. Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nuts are the seeds of new plants and must provide all the fat, protein and energy that a newly germinating plant must receive to continue its growth. No wonder we find them so nutritious !

There are many types of nuts and the benefits of consuming them are in part due to their lipid profile. Nuts abound – walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, brazils etc. all have a strong cultural and nutritional value. They are rich in the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, tocols (tocopherols and other related substances) and phytosterols (Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006). In fact, nuts contains lots of omega-6 fatty acids which are associated with inflammation but not all news is bad. They are also rich in proteins and fiber which all help.

Nuts In Healthy Eating 

Eating nuts has been an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet and this is consistent with lower levels of cardiovascular disease. We are regularly reminded that we should cut out the saturated fatty acids and we have seen numerous studies demonstrating that consumption of nuts should be in moderation. 

The nuts eaten most often  with the lowest calories are almonds at 160 per ounce (23 nuts; 6 grams protein, 14 grams fat); cashews (16 to 18 nuts; 5 grams protein, 13 grams fat); and pistachios (49 nuts; 6 grams protein, 13 grams fat). Sweet chestnuts actually have the lowest calorie and fat content  of all and they are lower in protein.

There is no evidence that eating nuts leads to increasing body weight (Fraser et al., 1992; Hu et al., 1998; Ellsworth et al., 2001; Albert et al., 2002; Sabaté, 2003; Griel et al., 2004).

Nuts coated in oil or packaged generally have much higher calorie values and are probably not regarded as healthy as raw nuts.

Various Health Benefits

Several clinical and epidemiological studies show that regular consumption of nuts produces a favourable blood lipid profile (Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006; Ternus et al., 2009), lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease (Kelly and Sabaté, 2006; Kris-Etherton et al., 2008) as already mentioned, influences type 2 diabetes (Jiang et al., 2002; Jenkins et al., 2008), and even sends certain types of cancer cell lines into reverse (González and Salas-Salvadó, 2006; Davis et al., 2008).

Long-Term Nut Consumption Can Improve Cognition In Older Adults

A study at the University of South Australia in 2019 has found that long-term consumption of nuts in high enough amounts could be enough to improve cognitive health in older people.

The study was conducted in 4,822 Chinese adults who were 55 years and over. The researchers discovered that eating more than 10 grams of nuts every day was positively associated with better mental abilities, better reasoning, improved memory and reasoning.

The UniSA study analysed nine waves of China Health Nutrition Survey collected over 22 years. In all the studies, 17 per cent of the participants were regular consumers of nuts but mostly peanuts. Dr Li, lead researcher stated that peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.

The key finding that eating 10 g which equates to two teaspoons of nuts per day was significant came about because it appeared to improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent. This was compared to the group who were not eating as many nuts. The nut eaters were ‘effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline’. 

The study has considerable implications for the Chinese population generally because by 2015, 330 million Chinese will be over the age of 65 with 90.4 million over the age of 80. Generally the population in China is aging faster than any other in the world. Continuing in good health and maintaining a strong mental outlook are key aspects in the support of such a huge population. It is feasible that this research could be extended to other populations where similar studies with specific nuts have been conducted into overall cognitive health. These studies show similar results where different cognitive benefits have been reported.

References

Albert, C.M., Gaziano, J.M., Willett, W.C., Manson, J.E. (2002) Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians’ Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 162 pp. 1382–7.

Davis, P.A., Jenab, M., Heuvel, J.P.V., Furlong, T., Taylor, S. (2008). Tree nut and peanut consumption in relation to chronic and metabolic diseases including allergy. J Nutr 138(9):  pp. 1757–62.

Ellsworth, J.L., Kushi, L.H., Folsom, A.R. (2001) Frequent nut intake and risk of death from coronary heart disease and all causes in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 11 pp. 372–7.

Fraser, G.E., Sabate, J., Beeson, W.L., Strahan, T.M. (1992) A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. The Adventist Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 152 pp. 1416–24.

Hu, F.B., Stampfer, M.J., Manson, J.E., Rimm, E.B., Colditz, G.A., Rosner, B.A., Spitzer, F.E., Hennekens, C.H., Willett, W.C. (1998) Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 317 pp. 1341–5.

González, C.A., Salas-Salvadó,  J. (2006). The potential of nuts in the prevention of cancer. Br J Nutr 96(2)  pp. 87–94.

Griel AE, Eissenstat B, Juturu V, Hsieh G, Kris-Etherton PM. (2004)  Improved diet quality with peanut consumption. J Am. Coll. Nutr.  23 pp. 660–8.

Griel, A.E., Kris-Etherton, P.M. (2006) Tree nuts and the lipid profile: a review of clinical studies. Br. J. Nutr. 96(2) pp. 68–78.

Jenkins, D.J.A., Hu, F.B., Tapsell, L.C., Josse, A.R., Kendall, C.W.C. (2008). Possible benefit of nuts in type 2 diabetes. J. Nutr 138(9):  pp. 1752–6.

Jiang, R., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Liu, S., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B. (2002). Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. J Am. Med. Assoc.  288(20) pp. 2554–60.

Kelly, Jr. J.H., Sabaté,  J. (2006). Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. Br. J. Nutr.  96(2)  pp. 61–7.

Kris-Etherton, P.M., Hu, F.B., Ros, E., Sabaté, J. (2008). The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr. 138(9):  pp. 1746–51.

Sabaté, J., (2003) Nut consumption and body weight. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 78 Suppl 3:S647–50.

Sabaté, J., Ros, E., & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2006). Nuts: nutrition and health outcomes. Br. J. Nutri., 96(S2), S1-S2.

Ternus, M.E., Lapsley, K., Geiger, C.J. (2009) Health benefits of tree nuts. In: Tree nuts: composition, phytochemicals, and health effects. Alasalvar C, Shahidi F, editors.  Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press. pp 37–64.

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