8 Surprising Health Benefits of Nuts

Nuts and seeds are often underrated as health foods. But as a group they pack a mighty punch in fighting disease and enhancing longevity. Although individually each has their own distinct benefits, they all provide plenty of healthful fats, fiber, plant protein, polyphenols, plant sterols, vitamins, and minerals. Thanks to their beneficial nutritional makeup, those who eat nuts and seeds regularly are more likely to meet the recommended intakes for vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and fiber.

Let’s uncover the surprising benefits of these small, yet mighty, nutritional powerhouses.

Increased Longevity

Nuts are consistently linked to a longer life. Several large, long-term studies have reported a lower rate of death from heart disease or from all causes in those who were eating nuts and seeds regularly. The studies included the Adventist Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the Physicians’ Health Study, and the PREDIMED study, among others.

A Way to Combat Heart Disease

Since the early 1990s, research has suggested that nut consumption could reduce the risk of heart disease. Among the findings: The pooled results from four large prospective studies showed that eating five or more servings of nuts per week was associated with a 35 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. In an analysis of several studies on the cholesterol-lowering properties of nuts, scientists found that each daily serving of nuts was associated with a 4.7 mg/dl reduction in total cholesterol and a 4.8 mg/dl reduction in LDL cholesterol, plus reductions in apolipoprotein B and triglycerides. Nuts have also been linked to a lower risk of stroke.

Connected to Cancer Prevention for Women

Nut consumption during adolescence was found to be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer later in life; women who ate one or more servings of nuts daily had a 24 percent reduced risk compared to those who ate less than one serving per month. In the Nurses’ Health Study, there was a 13 percent reduction in colorectal cancer risk and a 35 percent reduction in pancreatic cancer risk for women who ate at least two servings of nuts per week compared to those who rarely ate nuts.

May Help With Weight Loss

Eating nuts is associated with lower body mass index and a smaller waist circumference, and a lower likelihood of gaining weight or becoming obese. Meals containing nuts and seeds may be more satisfying thanks to their fats and fiber. This, in turn, may help you to eat less throughout the day. Additionally, studies have shown that many of the calories from nuts do not get absorbed from the digestive tract. So an ounce of nuts, which would be listed at 150 to 200 calories, doesn’t deliver all those calories.

Linked to Brain Health

Animal studies suggest that walnuts and almonds could be helpful for preventing age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Walnut consumption was also associated with better working memory in the PREDIMED study, and the Nurses’ Health Study linked a higher intake of nuts to better cognition in older women. The role of nuts in brain health is a new and exciting area of study.

Protection Against Diabetes

The inclusion of nuts and seeds in a plant-rich diet lowers the glycemic load of the food significantly, reducing insulin resistance, and offering protection against diabetes. Replacing carbohydrate foods with mixed nuts was shown to improve HbA1c in patients with diabetes, and adding pistachios to the diet was found to reduce insulin resistance in patients with prediabetes. Lower insulin requirements are a factor thought to promote longevity.

A Source for Valuable Nutrients

Flax, chia, and hemp seeds, along with walnuts, are rich in  the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA, a precursor to DHA and EPA. Pistachios and Mediterranean pine nuts have the highest plant sterol content of all nuts, which helps to lower cholesterol. Pistachios also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and Mediterranean pine nuts also contain a specific type of fatty acid that has been shown to curb appetite by increasing hormones that produce satiety signals. Almonds are rich in antioxidants. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc.

An Important Part of a Healthful Diet

For optimal nutritional value, don’t snack on nuts and seeds. Rather, add them to your meals in order to get the most benefit. Eating nuts and seeds with leafy greens increases the body’s absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, so tossing some into a salad is an excellent way to absorb more nourishment from that meal. It is also best to eat nuts and seeds in a raw or lightly toasted form. That’s because roasting reduces the amounts of minerals and amino acids found in the nuts and seeds and forms a potentially harmful compound called acrylamide.


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