The nut has been omnipresent in the diets of humans and their ancestors for millions of years, yet for many it conjures up images of bar snacks and beer. Is this rightly justified? Should the nut be categorised as merely a humble snack? The answer is absolutely not.
Nuts are a great source of plant protein, which is of course a necessity for the growth and repair of muscle cells. Proteins also assist in the manufacture of hormones and a number of other essential processes that take place in the body. Almonds are a great choice for protein lovers as they contain particularly high levels of this macronutrient. The benefits don't stop there; nuts are also a good source of insoluble fibre which is an essential digestion aid, preventing constipation. The insoluble fibre that nuts provide cannot be broken down in the digestive system and helps to keep stools solid, healthy and regular. The majority of nuts are also rich in the micronutrients Phosphorus, Zinc, Potassium, Manganese and Magnesium. Cashew nuts are a particularly good source of magnesium, and can therefore help maintain a healthy regular blood pressure. Nuts are also a rich source of the Vitamins E, B, A, C and K.
Benefits for your Heart
If you haven't already been convinced by the humble nut, and still believe it belongs in the grasp of a feisty squirrel then read on. It would seem that eating nuts as part of a healthy diet can be good for your heart. Consuming nuts can lower the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDLs) in your blood as high levels of LDLs are linked with the onset of heart disease (Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006). The inherent benefits the nuts provide the heart arise from a number of different nutrients. Unsaturated fats (also called good fats) can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, and stabilize heart rhythms. Omega-3 fatty acids protect the heart by decreasing dangerous heart rhythms, prevent blood clot formation, reduce blood triglycerides, help prevent atherosclerosis and stabilise blood pressure. Vitamin E may stop plaque formation in arteries which may in turn lead to heart disease.
Protection against other diseases
Nuts contain aplethora of antioxidants. These interesting compounds have been found to offer protection from a number of diseases including Alzheimer's disease. Walnuts are particularly high in ALA (a type of Omega-3 fatty acid) and Arginine. It has been suggested that walnuts might have a specific role in delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Brazil nuts are also prominent in the fight against disease, as they are the highest known concentrated natural source of selenium. Selenium is a powerful anti-carcinogen that has been shown to assist in the battle against cancer.
Whether you choose to eat them as a healthy snack or to aid the battle against disease, you can find Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashew Nuts and Walnuts in the ever-changing Healthy Eating Range at myvitamins.
Griel AE Kris-Etherton PM (2006) Tree Nuts and the LipidProfile: A Review of Clinical Studies Br J Nutr 96 S68 S78