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How are Nuts Beneficial for My Health?

It’s totally ok to “go nuts!” In fact, it is highly recommended. Eating a variety of nuts regularly has tremendous benefits for health and wellness (with the sole exception of individuals who have nut allergies).


One “nut” that is not technically a nut is peanut. In fact, if you Google “is a peanut a nut,” the first entry (which is quite in-your-face) succinctly if not somewhat aggressively declares “not a nut.” By the way, this highly nutritious legume is an edible seed, just like its close cousins, beans and peas – as is the Brazil nut.


Meanwhile, cashews, walnuts, pistachios and pecans are technically known as tryma drupes -- again, not nuts. 


Taxonomy aside, in the culinary world, all these are indeed known as “nuts,” and each, along with the true nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts) provide the body with tremendous protective and supportive benefits.


According to William Li, MD, of The Angiogenesis Foundation, tree nuts are rich in polyphenols that boost immune function. He said, “research has shown that people who eat more nuts and seeds have longer telomeres, which means that eating nuts can slow down our cellular aging. Nuts also have a lot of fiber, which activates our healthy gut bacteria, which boosts our immune system.” 


When discussing mindfully incorporating the bounty of nuts into your diet, you may recall the erroneous statement that nuts are “fattening,” meaning they will make you gain weight. This is untrue. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of studies of nut consumption and weight showed that “higher nut intake was associated with reductions in body weight and body fat.” The researchers specifically noted that the idea of eating nuts makes one gain weight is “unwarranted.”


Another outstanding reason to eat more nuts is that they nourish your microbiota! One study with almonds and almond skins, which are rich in fiber and other nutrients that have prebiotic properties, looked at potential prebiotic effects in 48 healthy individuals. In the study, the participants consumed 56 g of roasted almonds (and 10 g of almond skins) daily for six weeks. The researchers found two major changes:  an increase in beneficial genera Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and a suppression in growth of the potentially pathogenic Clostridum perfrigens.


 Another similar study investigated how eating not only almonds but pistachios impacted gut microbiota composition. In two separate investigations for comparisons -- 18 volunteers in the almond feeding study and 16 for the pistachio feeding study) for 18 days -- the researchers reported the effect of pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition was much stronger than that of almond consumption, characterized by an increase in the number of potentially beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria. The researchers write, “Although the numbers of bifidobacteria were not affected by the consumption of either nut, pistachio consumption appeared to decrease the number of lactic acid bacteria. Increasing the consumption of almonds or pistachios appears to be an effective means of modifying gut microbiota composition.”


There are some new studies in 2021 on several nuts.



Walnuts  

A recent review … The levels of unsaturated fatty acids and tocopherols in walnuts were significantly higher than those of many other widely consumed oil nuts. The presence of phytochemicals in walnuts gives rise to multiple bioactivities, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, and cholesterol lowering activity. The addition of walnut to a diet could enable delay of the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, protection against the development of certain cancers. Agronomic practices, environmental and climatic conditions, geographic locations, harvesting and postharvest handling practices have impacts upon phytochemical levels in walnuts.


A new review based on prior studies showing that eating nuts (primarily their constituents, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) by individuals who are pre-diabetic, investigated the cardiometabolic benefits of walnut consumption in people with diabetes type 2.

  

According to the researchers, several studies show an association with improved glycemic control when consuming walnuts, while other studies show no such effect. They did find that walnuts can contribute to satiety and not to weight gain. This review also suggests that walnut consumption has been associated with improved low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and endothelial function but not with blood pressure improvement.


An ongoing study is looking at the benefits of walnuts in adolescents’ brain development. Researchers, who gave 800 teenagers 4 walnuts per day for 6 months are interpreting data for determining effectiveness in enhancing neuropsychological and socio-emotional development, compared to teens who did not consume walnuts.


Almonds

Almonds are rich sources of protein, monounsaturated fatty acids, essential minerals, and dietary fiber. The goal of one recent review was to evaluate the effects of almonds on gut microbiota, glycometabolism, and inflammatory parameters in individuals with type 2 diabetes. A total of 17 published studies were analyzed and researchers found that essentially, diets containing almonds were effective in significantly lowering (HbA1c levels and body mass index (BMI) in the participants. They concluded that their findings “have shown that almond-based diets may be effective in promoting short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria and lowering glycated hemoglobin and body mass index in (individuals) with type 2 diabetes compared with control. However, the effects of almonds were not significant in fasting blood glucose and insulin, postprandial blood glucose, and inflammatory markers.


Pistachios

A recent review detailed how pistachios benefit human health and can be a tool for weight management. The authors explain that “growing clinical and epidemiological research supports the specific health benefits of pistachio consumption. They have been shown to improve diet quality and provide bioactive compounds with recognized properties for cardiovascular health, weight management and glycemic control. Randomized controlled clinical studies have shown they lower CVD risk factors and oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs suggest beneficial effects on blood pressure, endothelial function and on markers of glucose and insulin metabolism.”


Conclusion

As more health-minded people of all ages renovate their diets to favor plant-based foods, nuts should figure prominently. They are diverse in appetite-satisfaction, meaning they can be enjoyed in breakfast smoothies, as snacks, in breads/baked goods, in salads, in vegetable sides, and in desserts. It’s easy to get nutty, and highly recommended by nutritionists and physicians!

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