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Nuts are a very popular food. They're tasty, convenient and can be enjoyed on all kinds of diets. Despite being high in fat, they also have a number of impressive benefits for your health (and weight).
What Are Nuts?
Nuts are technically considered a fruit. However, unlike most types of fruit, they aren't sweet and are high in fat. They contain a hard, inedible outer shell that usually needs to be cracked open to release the fruit inside. Fortunately, you can buy most nuts from the store "pre-shelled" so that you don't have to crack them open yourself.
Here is a list of some of the most commonly consumed nuts:
Although peanuts are technically legumes like peas and beans, they are often referred to as nuts because they have similar nutrition profiles and characteristics.
Nuts are highly nutritious. One ounce (28 grams) of mixed nuts contains:
Some nuts have higher amounts of certain nutrients than others. For instance, just one Brazil nut provides more than 100% of the RDI for selenium. The carb content of nuts is highly variable. Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts have less than 2 grams of digestible carbs per serving, while cashews have almost 8 digestible carbs per serving.
Nuts are an antioxidant powerhouse. Antioxidants help control free radicals, which are unstable molecules produced as a normal part of metabolism. Free radical production increases in response to heavy sun exposure, stress, pollution and other causes.
Although free radicals can play a beneficial role in immune response, having too many can lead to cell damage. When your level of free radicals is too high, your body is said to be in a state of oxidative stress, which increases disease risk. The antioxidants in plant foods, including the polyphenols found in nuts, can combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals so they can't harm your cells.
The ORAC is a test that measures a food's capacity to fight free radicals. One study found that the ORAC of walnuts was greater than that of fish. Research has shown that the antioxidants in walnuts and almonds can protect the delicate fats in your cells from being damaged by oxidation. In one study, 13 people consumed walnuts, almonds or a control meal on three separate occasions. Both nut meals led to higher polyphenol levels and significantly less oxidative damage compared to the control meal.
BOTTOM LINE: Nuts contain antioxidants known as polyphenols, which may protect cells and LDL cholesterol from damage.
Although they're considered a high-calorie food, research suggests that nuts may actually help you lose weight. One large study called the PREDIMED study assessed the effects of the Mediterranean diet. Analysis of data from a subgroup of the study found that those assigned to eat nuts lost an average of 2 inches (5 cm) from their waists, which is significantly more than those assigned to eat olive oil.
Almonds have consistently been shown to promote weight loss rather than weight gain in controlled studies. One study found that pistachios may also be helpful for weight loss. In one study of overweight women, those who consumed almonds lost nearly three times as much weight and experienced a significantly greater decrease in waist size compared to the control group.
BOTTOM LINE: Nuts have been shown to help promote weight loss rather than contribute to weight gain. Several studies have found that the body doesn't absorb all of the calories in nuts.
Nuts have impressive effects on cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pistachios have been shown to lower triglycerides in obese people and diabetics. In one 12-week study, obese people who ate pistachios had triglycerides that were nearly 33% lower than the control group.
The cholesterol-lowering power of nuts is believed to be due in part to their high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Almonds and hazelnuts appear to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. One study found that ground, sliced or whole hazelnuts had similar beneficial effects on cholesterol.
BOTTOM LINE: Nuts may help lower total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while boosting levels of HDL cholesterol.
Type 2 diabetes is a common disease that affects hundreds of millions of people. Having a condition called metabolic syndrome is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, nuts may be one of the best foods for people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
First off, they are low in carbs and don't raise blood sugar levels much. Substituting nuts for higher-carb foods should lead to reduced blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that eating nuts may also lower oxidative stress, blood pressure and other health markers in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
BOTTOM LINE:Several studies have shown that blood sugar, blood pressure and others health markers improve when nuts are included in diets of people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Nuts have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is your body's way of defending itself from injury, as well as bacteria and other potentially harmful pathogens. However, chronic (long-term) inflammation can cause damage to organs and increase disease risk. Research suggests that eating nuts may reduce inflammation and promote healthy aging.
BOTTOM LINE:Research suggests that nuts may be helpful for reducing inflammation, especially in people with diabetes, kidney disease and other serious health conditions.
Fiber provides many health benefits. Although your body can't digest fiber, the bacteria that live in your colon can. Many types of fiber function as prebiotics or "food" for your healthy gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria then ferment the fiber and turn it into beneficial short-chain fatty acids(SCFAs).
Here are the nuts with the highest fiber content per 1-oz (28-gram) serving:
BOTTOM LINE:Many nuts are high in fiber, which can reduce disease risk, help keep you full, decrease calorie absorption and improve gut health.
Nuts are extremely good for your heart.
Several studies suggest that nuts help lower heart disease and stroke risk because of their benefits for cholesterol levels, LDL particle size, artery function and inflammation. Studies have found that small, dense LDL particles may increase heart disease risk more than larger LDL particles.
The PREDIMED study found that the group who consumed nuts had a significant decline in small LDL particles and an increase in large LDL particles. What's more, their HDL ("good") cholesterol levels increased. In another study, people with normal or high cholesterol were randomly assigned to consume either olive oil or nuts with a high-fat meal.
BOTTOM LINE:Nuts may significantly lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. That's because nuts increase LDL particle size, raise HDL cholesterol, improve artery function and have various other benefits for heart health.
(Image: Representation only)