Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 18, 2013
You may be hesitant to eat nuts because they contain fat, but this idea stems from the misunderstanding that all fats are bad. Despite what you’ve heard, all fats are not created equal. Researchers and clinicians now know certain fats (trans fat and saturated fat) contribute to heart disease, while others (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) actually reduce the risk of a heart attack when substituted for the unhealthy fats.
Although nuts contain some saturated fat, most are rich in monounsaturated fats and are packed with important nutrients. Dietary fiber, magnesium, copper, folic acid, potassium, vitamin E and protective phyto-nutrients are found in nuts, all contributors to cardiovascular health.
Research about Nuts and Your Health
The health benefits of nuts extend beyond your heart. Results of a recent study, led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that people who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20 percent lower death rate that those who did not eat nuts during the study period. Furthermore, among the 120,000 people studied, the researchers found that people who reported increased nut consumption experienced less weight gain during the study period than those people who reported lower levels of nut consumption.
Other research studies have reported that increased nut consumption may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Nuts and the Mediterranean
The basis for growing interest in the role of monounsaturated fat is from research in regions around the Mediterranean Sea. A landmark study showed that people in Crete eating about 43 percent of calories from fat (mostly monounsaturated) had a low incidence of heart disease. Although the fat in nuts have different proportions of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, most nuts are predominantly monounsaturated fat.
Walnuts are a little different. Walnuts contain more polyunsaturated fat. Walnuts also have the omega-3 fatty acid that is also found in fish oil. These omega-3 fats have been shown to reduce the incidence of dying suddenly from a life-threatening arrhythmia.
Nuts and Portion Control
Though nuts are a healthy food option, they must be eaten in moderation. A reasonable goal is to eat one ounce of nuts per day. Some studies suggest the fat in nuts allows for a feeling of satiety or satisfaction even with a smaller serving.
What is an Ounce of Nuts?
According the USDA Nutrient Database, nut portions per ounce are as follows:
- Almonds: 24 kernels contain 160 calories
- Cashews: 18 kernels contain 160 calories
- Hazelnuts: 20 kernels contain 180 calories
- Peanuts: 28 kernels contain 170 calories
- Pecans: 20 halves contain 200 calories
- Pistachios: 47 kernels contain 160 calories
- Walnuts: 14 halves contain 190 calories
Getting Your Ounce a Day
Besides eating out of hand, there are many creative ways to get your ounce of nuts a day:
- Sprinkle nuts on top of your favorite salad, casserole or dessert
- Add them to your oatmeal, breads, pastas or stir-fry
- Try nut butters for a healthy alternative to regular butter or margarine
If you’re allergic to nuts, there are delicious foods you can substitute to replace the nutritional benefits nuts provide.