As a kid I remember that my dad (who was always very health conscious) really enjoyed nuts but was cautious about eating too many. He said they were high in fat and he was worried about his cholesterol. Fast forward twenty-ish years and I find that many of my clients have lingering concerns about nuts. People seem to have a vague idea that nuts are good for you but they’re hung up on the high fat and calorie content. But as it turns out, more and more research is demonstrating that nuts actually improve lipid profiles and may have fewer net calories than we previously thought.
Nuts are an excellent source of plant sterols and stenols (called phytosterols) which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
Multiple studies have shown that diets rich in nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, flax, and sunflower seeds) result in improved lipid profiles.
And yes, there are lots of vegetables and healthy fats that contain phytosterols too – but nuts and seeds have double or triple the plant sterols and stenols of avocados for example. Plus all the fiber in nuts adds even more lipid lowering power!
Aside from being great for your cholesterol, nuts also make an excellent snack. They’re portable and stay fresh for months. And since they’re a good source of fat, fiber, and protein they help to provide steady energy and keep you feeling full. If you’re worried that a handful of nuts has too many calories, you may be surprised to learn that research suggests that nuts may actually be lower in net calories than previously estimated. This is because nuts are so high in insoluble fiber which the body can’t digest. So when we eat whole nuts our bodies end up excreting what can’t be broken down and we don’t absorb those calories. Study after study has shown that nuts do not contribute to weight gain and that people with nut-rich diets gain weight more slowly and have a reduced risk of becoming obese.
People often ask me what types of nuts are the healthiest. Ok, sure there are some differences between nut varieties but really they’re all good for you! Try to eat a variety of nuts and eat the ones you enjoy the most. When it comes to seasoned, salted, or sweetened nuts go ahead and enjoy these too – they’re delicious after all. Just make sure you stay mindful while eating them.
It’s easy to sit down with a bowl of salted nuts and eat them all without even realizing it. So try asking yourself, “am I still enjoying these?” and “how many more of these do I want to eat?”
Do you have questions about specific foods to incorporate into your diet? Are you trying to lower you cholesterol or lose weight? If so, contact us today to learn how one-on-one nutrition counseling can help you achieve your goals.
Bes-Rastrollo, Maira, et al. “Prospective Study of Nut Consumption, Long-Term Weight Change, and Obesity Risk in Women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 89, no. 6, 2009, pp. 1913–1919., doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27276.
FACLM, Michael Greger M.D. “Are Avocados Good for Your Cholesterol?”
Flores-Mateo, Gemma, et al. “Nut Intake and Adiposity: Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 97, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1346–1355., doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.031484.
Gobbo, Liana C Del, et al. “Effects of Tree Nuts on Blood Lipids, Apolipoproteins, and Blood Pressure: Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Dose-Response of 61 Controlled Intervention Trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 102, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1347–1356., doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.110965.
Le, Tran, et al. “Effects of Diet Composition and Insulin Resistance Status on Plasma Lipid Levels in a Weight Loss Intervention in Women.” Journal of the American Heart Association, vol. 5, no. 1, 2016, doi:10.1161/jaha.115.002771.