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5 Reasons to Eat More Nuts

5 Reasons to Eat More Nuts

They can help you protect your heart, maintain a healthy weight—and maybe even lower your cancer risk. But that’s not all.

Q: Which of the following isn’t actually a type of nut: walnut, pistachio, almond or peanut?

A: Okay, that was a trick question. None of them are nuts! The first three are technically the seeds of fruits rather than “true” nuts, while peanuts are legumes. But when it comes to the ways they help keep you healthy, all of them are nutty.

Some nuts, like almonds and walnuts, tend to get a lot of attention. But virtually any nut will offer healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, along with protein, fiber, vitamins E and K, folate, thiamine, several important minerals, carotenoids, antioxidants and phytosterols. Here’s why you should consider adding a 1-ounce serving of nuts to your day, every day.

They protect your heart
Over the last 30 years, numerous studies have shown that nuts are good for your ticker. One November 2017 analysis of three studies published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology included data from more than 210,000 people. Researchers found that eating 1 ounce of nuts five times a week was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of developing heart attack and stroke and a 20 percent lower risk of coronary artery disease, compared to never or rarely consuming them. 

That said, nut eaters in the studies tended to have healthier habits—like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly—though the study authors tried to account for these behaviors. 

They can help manage diabetes-related heart disease
Adding monounsaturated fats to your diet can be beneficial, especially for people with diabetes—and nuts are a great source. 

A March 2019 study of patients with type 2 diabetes published in the journal Circulation Research found that eating five or more servings of tree nuts per week was linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, whether folks began eating them before or after their diabetes diagnosis. The study also found that people who started eating nuts after their diagnosis still had a decreased risk of developing or dying from heart disease. For them, increased nut consumption was also tied to a 27 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause. 

They can help you maintain a healthy weight
Yes, nuts have lots of calories because of their fat content. But adding some to your diet does not necessarily mean you will gain weight. In fact, in a large observational study published in BMJ in September 2019, researchers found that increasing nut intake by a 1/2 ounce daily was associated with lower weight gain and reduced chances of becoming obese over time.  

“When I’m counseling people on weight loss, I advise them to eat nuts,” says Mark Jakubicki, MS, RD, Chief Dietitian at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey. “When you eat nuts as a snack, you feel full longer. They help you eat fewer calories overall.” 

Still, it’s important to eat nuts in moderation. Try to limit yourself to 1 ounce daily, due to the caloric density. A single ounce is about 24 almonds, 14 walnut halves, 48 pistachios, 35 peanuts, 18 cashews or 8 Brazil nuts. If you choose a nut butter, keep it to 2 tablespoons.

You can also add nuts to your diet in place of less healthy snacks or foods. Mix a few nuts into oatmeal or yogurt instead of sugary granola. Top salad with almonds or pecans instead of croutons. Add your favorite nuts to air-popped popcorn for a healthy snack. Or, make a nut-crusted chicken to cut down on breadcrumbs.

They may help lower cancer risk
As with cardiovascular disease, many researchers have investigated the link between nuts and cancer prevention. In one 2013 study published in BMC Medicine, people who ate more than three servings of nuts a week had a 40 percent lower risk of cancer death. One theory is that eating nuts can change your genes in a cancer-fighting way; some of the compounds in nuts could influence the way your DNA behaves, which may keep cancer from developing.

They enrich your gut
Prebiotics are foods, usually those high in fiber, that encourage the growth of good bacteria in your digestive system. Researchers have linked these good bacteria to the prevention of numerous diseases and conditions. Happily, the fiber in nuts can act as a prebiotic; research suggests it may boost good bacteria while inhibiting the growth of the kinds of bacteria that can contribute to disease. 

Unfortunately, most people don’t get the recommended amount of fiber—about 38 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. Adding a serving of nuts can help boost your intake of this important nutrient. A 1-ounce handful of almonds provides 3.3 grams of daily fiber needs, about the same as 1 cup of brown rice.

What about nut oils?
While nut oils won’t include the fiber you get when you eat a whole nut, they offer unsaturated fats that can boost your nutrition. These oils boast the omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids that help protect your heart. 

Nut oils can be rather delicate but very flavorful, so try them in homemade salad dressings, marinades or pesto. They can also be used to finish dishes, like a drizzle of walnut oil on pureed soups.

What if you can’t eat nuts?
A nut allergy doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of the health benefits. Remember, as great as a serving of nuts may be for your health, you can still get pretty much everything you need from an overall well-balanced diet. For example, there are plenty of other foods that provide similar healthy fats, according to Jakubicki, including:

  • Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines
  • High omega-3 eggs
  • Chia, flax, hemp and sunflower seeds
  • Avocado

But before you swear off nuts forever, consult your allergist. It’s possible that certain nuts could safely find their way into your diet.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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