Is It Good to Go a Little Nuts?

February 05, 2020

They may be small and fit in the palm of your hand, but certain nuts like walnuts and almonds pack a big-time benefit. Almonds have long been touted as a healthy snack, loaded with monounsaturated fat as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Walnuts as well have earned that healthy snack status.  

The Nuts and Bolts on Nuts 
Years ago, nuts developed a bad rap because of their high fat and calorie content, which might make some patients hesitate to include them in their diet. While nuts are a calorie-dense food, they are also nutrient-rich food, according to Shore Medical Center Registered Dietitian Stephanie Sullivan. 

The dietitian added that nuts could be difficult for some patients due to chewing ability but for younger patients, including nuts, in general, is part of a heart-healthy discussion. "This is especially true for vegetarians because most nuts are a rich protein source. We encourage including different variations of nuts such as nut butters, milks and even cheese made with almonds, cashews or macadamias. The tradeoff is a high fat content, so tailoring each education session to the individual is very important," said Sullivan. "There is no one size fits all approach to eating." 

The Mayo Clinic released a report in January stating that the addition of nuts to a healthy diet may be good for your heart. While they acknowledge the high calories, they counter that choosing nuts over a less healthy snack like cookies might help individuals stick to a heart-healthy diet. 

According to Mayo Clinic research eating nuts may lower LDL or bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which play a significant role in the buildup of plaque in arteries as well as improve the health of the lining of the arteries. Nuts appear to lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease and reduce the risk of developing blood clots that can lead to heart attacks. Nuts include fiber that helps you feel full, so you eat less and may play a role in preventing Type 2 diabetes. Nuts are a source of L-arginine, which plays a role in the health of the heart's artery walls, making them more flexible. 

A study released by Pennsylvania State University indicates that walnuts may hold a two-fold health benefit. Nutrition Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, acknowledging the heart-healthy factors, suggests that eating walnuts may also promote gut health. The study involved 42 overweight or obese participants between the ages of 30 and 65 who were placed on a diet for two weeks, where some ate walnuts, and others did not. Before-and-after tests showed an increase of gut bacteria such as roseburia, which is associated with the protection of the gut lining. 

Adding Nuts to a Healthy Eating Plan
Sullivan indicates there are several benefits to including nuts in a healthy eating plan.  Most nuts are high in protein, especially peanuts (although technically a legume).  Nuts are high in good fatty acids and fiber, which assists in bowel regularity. She added there is some evidence to support nuts lower cancer risk, and they can help in a weight management program when selected instead of over sugary snacks. 

"Nuts are a calorically-dense food, yet nutrition-dense. We would limit snacking to 7 walnuts haves or 22 almonds. Adding nuts does boost up the calories but also nutrition. The important thing to remember is to limit the portion size because they are small and so easy to overeat." 

To get help or to make plans to create a heart-healthy diet contact the scheduling department at 609-653-3500 ext 4600.