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Nuts, the superfood of the 21st century

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How often do you glance at magazine covers as you are checking out at a department store, drugstore or grocery store and find a bold face headline shouting out at you that someone has found that food or drink that will cure all, or most, of your physical/mental problems?

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Upon further inspection, we find few of these claims have been the product of an extensive longitudinal study. That is not the case, however, when it comes to the health benefits one gains by consuming one ounce of nuts a day, choosing a variety to be noted later in this article.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study that followed 119,000 men and women for 30 years. Researchers discovered those who ate walnuts, peanuts, almonds and/or other nuts seven or more times a week were 20% less likely to die from any cause during the study period than those who did not eat nuts. In fact, nut eaters tend to be slimmer and have better cholesterol levels, less arterial inflammation and better blood sugar levels than those who do not eat nuts.

The health benefits of the specific nuts studied, as outlined in the March 15, 2014 edition of Bottom Line Personal, are noted below:

Almonds – If you are trying to reduce your cholesterol, add a handful of almonds a day to your diet. One three-month study that tested 27 men and women with high cholesterol were able to lower their “bad” LDL cholesterol by an average of 4.4% by eating one handful of almonds a day and by 9.4% if they ate two handfuls.

Brazil nuts – There is more selenium, an antioxidant that reduces cholesterol and decreases the risk for blood clots and heart attacks, in Brazil nuts than in just about any other food. They are higher in fat than many other nuts, but are not the “fat bombs” you might imagine. Since the cell walls are not completely broken down during digestion, you will absorb less fat than you would with softer nuts.

A special note for men: The body needs selenium to produce testosterone, the hormone that helps maintain a man’s bone density muscle strength and sex drive.

Cashews – With 13 grams (g) of fat per ounce, cashews are one of the lowest fat nuts, with the majority of fats, including phytesterols and tocopherols, being good for your heart. Cashews are also good for your weight for when you eat a handful of them, the body releases cholecystokinin, a hormone that increases your feelings of fullness.

Macadamia nuts – Although these delicious nuts are high in fat, more than 82% of that fat is monounsaturated. They are also a good source of fiber, with 2.3 g per one-ounce serving. A Journal of Nutrition study found that people who most of their fiber from macadamia nuts had a greater reduction in LDL and total cholesterol than those who ate a similar diet without the nuts.

Peanuts – Even though peanuts are technically legumes, they act like nuts. They reduce the risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and other conditions. Peanuts are rich in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation. The large, multi-decade Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that people who regularly ate peanut butter, peanuts or other nuts were less likely to develop diabetes.

Pecans – One study found that antioxidants – including the vitamin E in pecans and other nuts – helped slow the progression of macular degeneration by about 25%. When USDA researchers measured the antioxidant capacity of more than 100 foods, they found that pecans were at the top of the nut pack.

Pistachio nuts – Pistachios are particularly high in arginine, an amino acid used by the body to produce nitric oxide, a gas that causes blood vessels to dilate. It is important not just for sexual health but also for overall cardiovascular health.

In one study, men with erectile dysfunction were given 100 g (a little more than 3 ounces) of pistachios daily for three weeks. They showed an increase in IIEF scores (a measure of the ability to get erections) and improvements in blood flow. They also had an increase in HDL, which helps prevent cholesterol from clogging arteries in the penis.

Walnuts – Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based form of the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish. The ALA in walnuts appears to rival the health benefits of the longer-chain omega-3s in fish. One study, published in Diabetes Care, found that people who ate walnuts had an increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol and a drop in LDL. The fatty acids in walnuts may slow the progression of arterial plaques that produce clots, the cause of most heart attacks.

Additionally, a recent study found that eating walnuts with meals decreased the inflammation that occurs immediately after eating a steak of other foods high in saturated fats. Inflammation is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

To sum it all up, if someone asks you if you’d like a snack, you’d be wise to say, “Awwww, nuts!”

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