Nuts and their health benefits

Have you ever noticed how foods fall in and out of favour? Eggs, seafood and nuts are all foods once out of favour, that now get the thumbs up. We were told to steer clear of nuts, mostly because they were high in fat and kilojoules. But nuts are a great source of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. In fact, there’s even some evidence suggesting thateating them may help you live longer. Researchers in the United States found people who ate nuts seven or more times a week were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, when compared with those who didn’t eat them at all. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy nuts every day, as long as stick to a small handful (about 30 grams) and avoid the salted and roasted varieties. (Or you can easily roast your own nuts on a sheet of baking paper on a tray in your oven with no added fat.) Different nuts vary dramatically in their mineral content.

  • Almonds: Almonds available whole, flaked, slivered or as flour) are especially high in calcium, essential for strong bones. Almonds are also a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E and there is evidence they help reduce blood pressure. They work well in a range of sweet and savoury dishes, or grab a handful for a tasty snack.
  • Cashews: Cashews are delicious lightly roasted and they are a great source of copper, which is important for healthy blood, nerves, bones and your immune system.
  • Pine nuts: Pine nuts, the seeds from pine trees, are a traditional food in many cultures – added to savoury foods as well as pastries and biscuits. In Australia, they’re probably best known as an ingredient in pesto. But they’re also tasty tossed in salads or stir fries. They’re a particularly good source of iron and zinc.
  • Pistachios: Pistachios in particular are also high in potassium, which is important, among other things, for healthy nerve impulses.
  • Walnuts: Slightly bitter in flavour, walnuts are good eaten raw or cooked. Some describe walnuts as the king of nuts because they are exceptionally high in good quality antioxidants. They are also a great plant source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
  • Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts have an unusually tender flavour, which goes particularly well with chocolate desserts, but they are a great snack on their own too. They are the richest known source of selenium, a mineral important for the function of our liver, thyroid, heart and immune system.

Eating nuts regularly doesn’t seem to make you fat, provided you don’t overdo it. A small handful is a good amount. In many studies where people have been given 30 to 50g of nuts a day, there has been no weight gain. This might in part be because nuts are high in fibre, which helps make them filling.

ABC Health News, 20 April 2015 ; ;