Nuts and Seeds Essential for Good Health and Weight Loss


Contrary to the popular belief that nuts and seeds are too fattening for those who want to lose weight, research suggests that nuts and seeds are actually beneficial for weight loss. Most important, nuts and seeds are healthful, natural foods that are full of beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals. In any case, it’s not the fat content of a diet that makes it healthy or not, it’s the nutrient content, specifically micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals). And based on their nutrient content, nuts are a health-promoting source of calories.

Nuts and seeds contain a wide spectrum of micronutrients including:

  • LDL cholesterol-lowering phytosterols
  • Circulation-promoting arginine (an amino acid)
  • Minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and selenium
  • Antioxidants, including flavonoids, resveratrol, tocopherols (vitamin E), and carotenoids.

Nuts and seeds promote heart health. Epidemiological studies have consistently shown that nut consumption is beneficial for heart health. Eating five or more servings of nuts per week is estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 35 percent.1 Eating nuts and seeds protects against sudden cardiac death and reduces blood cholesterol and inflammation.1-3

Nuts and seeds aid weight loss

Individuals trying to lose weight should not try to avoid nuts. In fact, in obese individuals, adding nuts to the diet aided in weight loss and also improved insulin sensitivity, which could help to prevent or reverse diabetes.4

Of course, nuts should not be eaten to excess. Nuts and seeds are high in nutrients but also high in calories, so they should be eaten with consideration for one’s caloric needs. One ounce daily is usually appropriate for women trying to lose weight and 1.5 – 2 ounces for overweight men. Conversely, nuts and seeds should be eaten in larger amounts for slim, highly physically active people who can use the extra calories.

Nut consumption may enhance lifespan

In the Adventist Health Study, a number of lifestyle factors were found to be associated with longevity. Those who had a high level of physical activity, followed a vegetarian diet, and ate nuts frequently lived on average eight years longer than those who did not share those habits.5

Similarly in the Nurses’ Health Study, nut consumption was identified as a dietary factor associated with reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancers.6 New research continues to confirm these observations.7

Each nut and seed has its own nutritional profile that lends unique health benefits:

  • Almonds are rich in antioxidants. In one study, people ate either almonds or a snack with a similar fat profile each day for four weeks, and the subjects who ate almonds showed reduced oxidative stress markers.8
  • Walnuts. Diabetics who ate walnuts daily for eight weeks experienced an enhanced ability of the blood vessels to dilate, indicating better blood pressure regulation.9There is also evidence that walnuts may protect against breast cancer.10
  • Pistachios and Mediterranean pine nuts have the highest plant sterol content of all the nuts; plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, and help to lower cholesterol levels.11Pistachios reduce inflammation and oxidative stress as well as cholesterol.12-14
  • Mediterranean pine nuts contain a specific type of fatty acid that has been shown to curb appetite by increasing hormones that produce satiety signals.15
  • Flax, hemp, and chia seeds are extremely rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and hemp seeds are especially high in protein, making them a helpful food for athletes.
  • Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, calcium, and phytochemicals, and may help to prevent prostate cancer.16
  • Sesame seeds have the greatest amount of calcium of any food in the world, and provide abundant amounts of vitamin E and contain a lignan called sesamin; lignan-rich foods may protect against breast cancer.17-19

What about peanuts?

So many of us eat peanuts or peanut butter, but just how great are peanuts as a health food?

In a nutshell, peanuts are healthful, but don’t contain as much healthful ingredients as other nuts. Since raw peanuts don’t taste good, practically all are roasted. The problem is that they are usually over-roasted and lose their nutritional value and form acrylamides (carcinogens).

Nuts and seeds should be eaten raw or only lightly toasted. Roasting nuts and seeds forms a potentially harmful compound called acrylamide, and reduces the amounts of minerals and amino acids. Salted nuts should also be avoided.

In addition, eating nuts and seeds with leafy greens can enhance the body’s absorption of fat-soluble nutrients from the greens. Therefore, a nut-based salad dressing is an excellent way to absorb more nutrients from your salads.20

Your nuts if you don’t eat nuts!

 
References
  1. Kris-Etherton PM, Hu FB, Ros E, et al: The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr 2008;138:1746S-1751S.
  2. Salas-Salvado J, Casas-Agustench P, Murphy MM, et al: The effect of nuts on inflammation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17 Suppl 1:333-336.
  3. Ros E: Nuts and novel biomarkers of cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1649S-1656S.
  4. Rajaram S, Sabate J: Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Br J Nutr 2006;96 Suppl 2:S79-86.
  5. Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ: Ten years of life: Is it a matter of choice? Arch Intern Med 2001;161:1645-1652.
  6. Baer HJ, Glynn RJ, Hu FB, et al: Risk factors for mortality in the nurses' health study: a competing risks analysis. Am J Epidemiol 2011;173:319-329.
  7. Guasch-Ferre M, Bullo M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, et al: Frequency of nut consumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC Med 2013;11:164.
  8. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, et al: Almonds reduce biomarkers of lipid peroxidation in older hyperlipidemic subjects.J Nutr 2008;138:908-913.
  9. Ma Y, Njike VY, Millet J, et al: Effects of walnut consumption on endothelial function in type 2 diabetic subjects: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Diabetes Care 2010;33:227-232.
  10.  Eurekalert! Walnuts slow prostate tumors in mice: UC Davis research shows walnuts affect genes related to tumor growth
  11. March 22, 2010 edition; 2010.
  12. Ellegard LH, Andersson SW, Normen AL, et al: Dietary plant sterols and cholesterol metabolism. Nutr Rev 2007;65:39-45.
  13. Kay CD, Gebauer SK, West SG, et al: Pistachios increase serum antioxidants and lower serum oxidized-LDL in hypercholesterolemic adults. J Nutr 2010;140:1093-1098.
  14. Kocyigit A, Koylu AA, Keles H: Effects of pistachio nuts consumption on plasma lipid profile and oxidative status in healthy volunteers. Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD 2006;16:202-209.
  15. Sari I, Baltaci Y, Bagci C, et al: Effect of pistachio diet on lipid parameters, endothelial function, inflammation, and oxidative status: a prospective study. Nutrition 2010;26:399-404.
  16. Pasman WJ, Heimerikx J, Rubingh CM, et al: The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women. Lipids in Health and Disease 2008;7:10.
  17. Hong H, Kim CS, Maeng S: Effects of pumpkin seed oil and saw palmetto oil in Korean men with symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia. Nutr Res Pract 2009;3:323-327.
  18. Thompson LU, Chen JM, Li T, et al: Dietary flaxseed alters tumor biological markers in postmenopausal breast cancer.Clin Cancer Res 2005;11:3828-3835.
  19. Buck K, Vrieling A, Zaineddin AK, et al: Serum enterolactone and prognosis of postmenopausal breast cancer. J Clin Oncol2011;29:3730-3738.
  20. Higdon J: Lignans. In An Evidence-Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals. New York: Thieme; 2006: 155-161.