Nuts – what about them?

You may ask, “What kind of a nut are you to ask such a question?”

The word nut has many meanings, depending on how you use it. The word can be used to express love, disgust or enthusiasm. It can be a fruit. It can be used as a slang to describe your head, testicles, your boss, your spouse, your foolish, silly or eccentric friend, an insane psychotic person and for tools like nuts and bolts. Well, I can go on and on at the risk of you saying, “You’re off your nut doc, make your point now.”

The point is, we are going to talk about a seed borne within a fruit having a hard shell, as in the peanut or almond.  We know that Mediterranean diet is good for your heart and brain. A Mediterranean diet is described as a diet rich in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts), including fish, some poultry, limited red meat, and primarily unsaturated vegetable oils.

Then there is the Portfolio eating plan. This is a vegetarian/Mediterranean-type diet with less than seven per cent of calories from saturated fat. It consists of 2000 cal/day. Besides other things, Portfolio diet requires you to eat 30 gm of almonds (one handful= 23 almonds = one ounce).

In general, nuts are a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids, plant protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, plant sterols and flavonoids, all of which have health benefits. Studies have shown that if you eat one ounce of nuts (¼ cup) or more per day then you can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 per cent. Isn’t that wonderful?

Studies of walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, macadamias and pistachios show modest changes in blood lipid levels. Similar to other foods rich in unsaturated fat, nuts help maintain HDL (good cholesterol) levels. To control calorie intake, moderate quantities of nuts should be substituted for other foods, since one ounce of nuts (¼ cup) contains approximately 170 calories (Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 2nd ed.)

According to US Department of Agriculture, 68 per cent of the nuts eaten in the United States are peanuts and peanut butter, about six per cent are almonds, six per cent are coconuts, five per cent are pecans, five per cent are walnuts and 10 per cent are all other nuts combined.

Peanuts are considered to be mother-nature’s complete food. They belong to legume or dried bean family and are a great source of protein, fibre, a variety of vitamins and minerals and beneficial unsaturated fats. Since they are a plant food, they contain no cholesterol.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers report that consuming a half serving (one tablespoon) of peanut butter or a full serving of peanuts or other nuts (an ounce), five or more times a week is associated with a 21 per cent and 27 per cent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, respectively (JAMA 2002).

Many studies have examined the eating patterns of both men and women and found that small, frequent servings of peanut butter, nuts and peanuts can reduce the risk of heart disease by 25-50 percent.

Americans consume 2.4 billion pounds of peanuts each year. About 50 per cent is consumed as peanut butter. Research published in Paediatrics shows that high risk overweight adolescents, ages 10-15, can lose weight while substituting an ounce of peanuts or peanut butter for other less healthy snack choices.

A serving of peanuts is simply a handful and is only 160 calories. And a serving of peanut butter (two tablespoons) contains 190 calories – just enough to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In addition, studies show that peanuts and peanut butter satisfy hunger longer than other foods (www.peanut-institute.org).

So, have you gone nuts yet?

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