Nuts have long had a bad rap for being high in fat and calories, prompting weight-conscious bodybuilders to relegate nuts to their lists of forbidden foods. But as researchers take a closer look at walnuts, almonds, and other nuts, they’re discovering these delicious, crunchy foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And that fat we were so wary of? Turns out it’s good for our hearts – and our bodybuilding.
That was the conclusion of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which released a qualified health claim in 2003 that states eating a handful of nuts a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. That’s because most of the fat in nuts is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which have been shown to lower levels of LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol). These fats are important for bodybuilders because they have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, and can help repair tiny muscle injuries that create inflammation.
Not just any nut will do, however. The FDA includes six nuts in its qualified health claim, but a few others didn’t make the cut, including Brazils, macadamias, and cashews. These nuts have relatively high levels of saturated fat, which over time can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of prepackaged nut mixes, which are often coated in oils and salt. Instead, buy the following types of nuts raw and toast them in the oven or on the stove top to bring out their full, rich flavor.
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Benefits of Nuts
Walnuts are rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid ALA, This type of fatty acid isn’t as effective as the kind found in fish, but a recent study indicates that ALA decreases inflammation that can damage arteries and may help reduce the breakdown of bone. Studies have also shown that walnuts can increase levels of good HDL while lowering LDL.
Add walnut oil to salad dressing or use crushed walnuts to make a pesto sauce. Saute chopped walnuts and mix into taco meat for crunch.4
A recent study found that the fiber in almonds actually blocks some of the nut fat from being digested and absorbed; participants also reported feeling satisfied after eating almonds, so they naturally compensated for the calories in the nuts by eating less during the day. One serving of almonds provides 35 percent of the RDA for vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Add almonds to your breakfast cereal or yogurt. Mix into chicken salad, or indulge in a few dark-chocolate-covered almonds.
Peanuts are technically not nuts – they’re legumes and belong to the same family as beans and peas. They have a low glycemic index, which means they’re digested slowly and help maintain a balanced blood-sugar level. Peanuts also contain resveratrol, the same phytochemieal found in red wine thought to protect against heart disease.
Use peanut butter as a sauce base for a Thai noodle dish. Lightly brown peanuts in a skillet and add them to a stir-fry, or chop and bake them into muffins.
These tasty, little green nuts are high in lutein, an antioxidant typically found in dark leafy vegetables that’s been shown to protect our eyes from macular degeneration. In one recent study, participants who ate 40 grams of pistachios every day lowered their total cholesterol levels, while participants who ate 80 grams a day saw an even more dramatic drop.
Sprinkle pistachios on shrimp or scallops (or on ice cream for dessert). Add crushed pistachios to meat loaf in place of some of the beef or bread crumbs.
A study ranked the antioxidant capacity of 100 different foods and found that pecans are one of the top 15 sources of antioxidants. In another study, pecan antioxidants were shown to prevent LDL from building up in arteries and lowered total cholesterol. Compared with other nuts, pecans have one of the highest levels of phytosterols, plant chemicals that helps protect against cardiovascular disease.
Add pecans to pancake batter, or coarsely chop and toss with pasta. Mix finely chopped pecans with bread crumbs and use as a coating on any broiled fish.
Hazelnuts have the highest nut level of folate, a B vitamin known to reduce the risk of birth defects and may also lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and depression. Hazelnuts contain levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which help lower blood pressure.
Add roasted hazelnuts to asparagus with lemon vinaigrette. They also go well with sweets, like granola yogurt parfaits.