Source: New York Times
I had been mistakenly told as a teenager that nuts were fattening and constipating, effects I certainly wanted to avoid. But based on what I have learned to the contrary from recent studies, I now enjoy them daily as nuts or nut butters in my breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and snacks. A baggie of lightly salted peanuts accompanies me on excursions everywhere; I even keep a jar of peanuts in my car.
Strong links between nuts and peanuts and better health have also been found in a major study of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and varied ethnic groups — blacks, whites and Asians — many of whom had serious risk factors for premature death, like smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
And while it is true that more people today are allergic to nuts, and to peanuts in particular, than ever before, two recent studies have pointed to ways that may prevent children from developing a nut allergy. The first study, published last year in JAMA Pediatrics, found that women who consumed the most nuts or peanuts during their pregnancies were least likely to have children with this allergy. The reduction in risk was highest among children whose mothers ate nuts five or more times a month.
I want to reassure weight-conscious readers that, when consumed in reasonable quantities, nuts are not fattening and can even help people lose weight and maintain the loss.
Yes, relatively speaking, nuts are high in fat, and fat contains more calories per gram (nine) than protein or sugar (four calories), even more than alcohol (seven calories). But a review of studies of large populations here and abroad by Richard D. Mattes of Purdue University and co-authors most often found that adults who eat nuts weigh less than nut avoiders. And children who ate peanuts usually had a lower body mass index than those who did not.
One explanation for the weight control benefit of nuts is the satiation provided by their high fat and protein content, which can reduce snacking on sweets and other carbohydrates. Another is that all the calories in nuts, especially whole nuts, may not be absorbed because they resist breakdown by body enzymes.
As for their cardiovascular benefits, nuts are rich sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which prompted a health claim by the Food and Drug Administration that “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Two exceptions are macadamia nuts and cashews, which have too much saturated fat to qualify for this claim.
Nuts are also rich sources of dietary fiber, and almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts and walnuts may actually help prevent constipation, countering my long-held concerns about their effects on digestion. Other beneficial substances in nuts include vitamins, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. All of which adds up to nuts as a nutritional powerhouse.