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Nuts have become more popular since nutrition experts have been recommending the consumption of healthy fats found in plant foods. Studies have linked nuts with an array of benefits, including lower risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers. All tree nuts are good for you, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, macadamias, Brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and peanuts (actually legumes, but included in the nut category because they are so similar nutritionally). However, the healthiest nuts boast more powerful nutrient profiles than the others, gaining them superfood status.
The heart-healthy walnut has earned a qualified health claim from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the role it can play in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Walnuts also have been linked to decreased risks of cancer, cognitive decline, type 2 diabetes, obesity,
Walnuts are rich in fiber, manganese, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus, and they provide 4 grams of protein in a single ounce. Walnuts contain a variety of phytochemicals with antioxidant properties.
In addition, walnuts are rich in healthy, unsaturated fats, and they are the only nut that contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids—2.5 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) per ounce. While much of the evidence on omega-3 benefits is attributed to the long-chain varieties (EPA and DHA) found in fatty fish, the short-chain, plant-based omega-3 ALA has its own anti-inflammatory benefits. Additionally, a small percentage of ALA is converted to EPA and DHA in the body.
All it takes is a handful (about one-quarter cup, or 14 halves) of walnuts a day to gain benefits. Stir walnuts into your yogurt or oatmeal, sprinkle them over salads made with leafy greens, add them to pancake or muffin batters, or include them in vegetable-based chilis and stews.
Almonds are high in healthy, monounsaturated fat and rich in protein, providing 6 grams per ounce (just a bit less than the 7 to 8 grams found in an ounce of meat). Almonds also contain riboflavin (a B vitamin), magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium, and they are one of the top food sources of vitamin E, which acts as a powerful antioxidant that has been linked with lower risks of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Numerous benefits have been attributed to almonds, including better cardiovascular health, better weight control, and improved blood glucose control for type 2 diabetes patients. These results may be due to the fact that almonds are rich in fiber and protein, a combination that promotes satiety—the feeling of being full—for a longer period of time. While almonds, like all tree nuts, are dense in calories (160 calories in one ounce), research suggests that almonds (and other nuts) may provide up to 20 percent fewer calories than was previously thought, because the fiber in nuts may result in decreased calorie absorption.
Almonds are an excellent snack food, but they’re also delicious sprinkled on cereal, stirred into whole-grain side dishes, mixed into homemade granola bars, and sprinkled over fruit crisps.
This humble American favorite is actually a member of the legume family (it grows below the ground in a pod), but it is very similar to tree nuts in terms of nutrition and culinary uses.
Peanuts are filled with protein, heart-healthy fats, and fiber. A one-ounce serving of peanuts (about 28 whole nuts) provides 7 grams of protein—the highest protein content of all nuts. Peanuts are particularly high in the amino acid arginine, a precursor to the compound nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels. Peanuts also provide niacin, thiamin, choline, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper, and they contain phytochemicals such as resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine.
Daily consumption of about one ounce of peanuts has been linked with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, as well as lower blood lipids and inflammation levels. In addition, eating peanuts can help you manage your weight, because they have the protein, fat, and fiber combination to help control hunger throughout the day. Enjoy natural, no-sugar-added peanut butter on whole-grain bread or fruit slices, add peanuts to trail mix, or stir chopped peanuts into a bowl of quinoa or brown rice with some Asian seasonings for a satisfying side dish.
A one-ounce serving of pistachios (49 nuts) provides healthy, unsaturated fats, fiber, and B vitamins, as well as protein. Pistachios have the highest potassium content among all of the varieties of nuts. They also contain magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, and valuable phytochemicals, including carotenoids.
Pistachios contain substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which is probably part of the reason that research has linked pistachio consumption with several health benefits. In one study, daily pistachio consumption by adults with type 2 diabetes was shown to improve cardiovascular risk by significantly lowering total cholesterol and the ratio of total to HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. In addition, pistachios have been linked with weight control, especially if you shell them yourself; research shows that you gain a greater sense of satiety by opening the shell and eating the nut than by tossing shelled pistachios into your mouth.
Combine pistachios with dried fruit for a healthy grab-and-go snack, sprinkle them over roasted vegetables, or substitute pistachios for pine nuts in traditional pesto recipes.
To learn more about the healthiest nuts, fruits and vegetables, purchase Superfoods at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.