Nuts are extremely beneficial parts of any diet, and they contain a wide variety of health benefits that include their ability to balance cholesterol levels, increase heart health, reduce blood pressure and clots, boost the immune system, aid in weight loss, improve digestive function, optimize the body’s metabolism, increase skin health, reduce the risk of cancer, increase cognitive function, protect against viral and fungal infections, and increase red blood cell count.
What are Nuts?
The term “nut” is used quite broadly in culinary applications, but in terms of botany and science, nuts are actually fruits that contain shells and seed, but technically, nuts do not naturally expel their seeds. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns do not separate their shells and seeds, and they are scientifically classified as nuts. The rest are seeds, but they are frequently called nuts. In terms of nutritious value and impact, the two types of seeds and nuts are very similar, so for our purposes, we’ll be discussing all of them as nuts.
Nuts have been included in the human diet for at least 750,000 years, according to anthropological records from dig sites. The nutritional value and accessibility of nuts around the world made it an important part of hunter/gatherer culture for thousands of years, so culturally, they have continued to play a major role in different cuisines. They are eaten in almost every country in some variety. The most common types of nuts are almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews, chestnuts, flax seeds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Another unexpected type of nut is coconut, which has some unique health benefits as well.
Nuts Nutrition Facts
The many health benefits of nuts are due to the rich variety of vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds that are found in many of them. More specifically, the benefits come from the dietary fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acid, flavonoids, carotene, L-arginine, vitamin E, plant sterols, and minerals like copper, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. According to Dr. David Jacob, et al., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, nuts are a rich source of antioxidants. The impressive list of healthy attributes in dozens of nut, varieties contributes to many of the health benefits, which are explained below.
Health Benefits of Nuts
Healthy benefits of nuts are as follows:
According to the National Institutes of Health, one of the best aspects of nuts is their high content of healthy fats, which sounds like an oxymoron to some people, but there are beneficial forms of fat that the body requires, and nuts are a wonderful source of these polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids, more specifically, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). According to the report published by Dr. Zhennan Gu, Dr. Jingjing Li, et al. in the BMC Journal, this type of fatty acid has certain anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to reduce the chances of colon, prostate, and breast cancer in test subjects. Furthermore, the high level of dietary fiber in nuts promotes good bowel movements and digestion, which reduces the chances of certain types of gastrointestinal cancers.
Prevent Digestive Issues
Every single variety of nut has a high content of fiber, which is one of the more beneficial and versatile elements found in food, as per Elsevier’s Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. First of all, fiber is important to the digestive process, because it adds bulk to the stool. This means that bowel movements move through the digestive tract smoothly because the fiber stimulates peristaltic motion in the smooth muscle of the intestine. When stool moves freely through the system, constipation is reduced, and regular bowel movements can begin. This reduces the chances of developing various digestive conditions like hemorrhoids or polyps. Furthermore, fiber acts to scrub out excess cholesterol from the body, particularly the damaging omega-6 fatty acids.
Fiber present in nuts makes the body feel full and inhibits the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which keeps obese people from overeating. This makes nuts a valuable part of weight-loss regimens. Along with fiber in the battle against the bulge, nuts contain a powerhouse of nutrients and beneficial vitamins, without adding too many calories to the diet. Dr. Richard Mattes, et al., Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in his study suggests, “Nuts may be included in the diet, in moderation, to enhance palatability and nutrient quality without posing a threat for weight gain.” Obviously, nuts that are heavily salted or dipped in chocolate lose some of this weight loss advantage.
Improve Heart Health
Perhaps the most important attribute of nuts in terms of overall health is its impact on the cardiovascular system. This happens in a number of ways. First of all, nuts contain a large amount of “good cholesterol”, also known as HDL cholesterol, so while many people things of cholesterol as bad no matter what, let this be a lesson to you. This beneficial type of cholesterol actually reduces the presence of dangerous cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in the blood, says The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It ensures that they do not bind on the walls of arteries and blood vessels. In this way, nuts reduce the chance of blood clots and atherosclerosis from seriously harming your cardiovascular system.
Secondly, nuts contain an important amino acid called L-arginine, which relaxes blood vessels and eases any constriction or chronic contractions. When blood vessels are relaxed, blood flows more freely, and there is less stress on the entire system, and blood pressure decreases. Also, blood clots are less likely to impact the body when the vessels are relaxed and the blood if flowing quickly and smoothly. Nuts are also a rich source of certain poly-phenolic flavonoid components, including resveratrol. This powerful compound inhibits the activity of angiotensin, which causes blood vessels to tighten. It also induces the release of nitric oxide, a known vasodilator.
A study by Dr. Susanna Larsson, et al., Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm says that moderate consumption of nuts help to lower the risks of heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation (a.k.a. heart flutter which causes a rapid increase in heart rate), and abdominal aortic aneurysm (enlarged aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the body at the level of the abdomen). Overall, nuts are some of the best things you can eat to help your heart health and prevent cardiovascular issues from arising. Eating a lot of nuts is often called being on a Mediterranean diet, and the cultures surrounding the Mediterranean have a notoriously low level of cardiovascular disease.
Rich Source of Vitamin-E
The vitamin found in the highest concentrations in nuts is Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants combat the effects of free radicals in the body, which are byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause a wide range of diseases and dangerous health conditions. Furthermore, the health benefits of vitamin E include its ability to boost skin health and fight the harmful effects of free radicals that lead to wrinkles and premature aging. This vitamin also boosts immune function, increases the metabolic functions of the body, and promotes cellular repair.
Fight Mental Disorders
Nuts also combat the debilitating effects of mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and depression due to its omega-3 fatty acid content. This is confirmed by research headed by Martha Clare Morris and funded by the National Institute on Aging, Bethesda. These compounds are also good at reducing rheumatoid arthritis, since it is anti-inflammatory in nature, which increases the flow of blood to the brain, further increasing healthy cognitive function.
The high levels of potassium found in certain nuts are very beneficial to cellular fluid and water balance in the cells. This can help keep the body hydrated and functioning properly, as hydration is very important. Potassium also works as a vasodilator to further reduce blood pressure and protect the heart from various conditions.
These two essential minerals are needed for the proper functioning and creation of red blood cells. Iron and copper are both active components in red blood cells, so they work to alleviate symptoms of anemia, also known as iron deficiency, which can result in fatigue, lightheadedness, stomach issues, and sleep disorders.
Word of Caution
Unfortunately, despite all of the health benefits of nuts, there is a downside. Nuts tend to be a highly allergenic substance, and it can manifest in a variety of ways. Being allergic to one nut is not the same as another, so you must be careful whenever you eat a new type of nut. If you are allergic the reactions can range from mild to extremely severe and include skin and facial irritation, swelling of the throat, respiratory malfunctions, anaphylactic shock, heart arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastric discomfort. As long as you are aware of what your body can and can’t handle, nuts are an extremely valuable boost to your overall health!