Many people still regard any food with a sizeable fat content as the antithesis of healthy. Yet, adopting such a reductionist view (e.g. high fat = unhealthy) means we could be missing out on some of the healthiest foods going, which just so happen to be high in fat. The reality is, whole foods cannot be reduced – and judged – on the basis of one component they contain. And nuts are the perfect example of why.
There’s no doubt that nuts are a real fatty of a food, with fat accounting for the lion’s share of their not inconsiderable calorie content. However, the important point to make here is that these are predominantly the ‘good’ type of fat in the form of both the mono- and polyunsaturated kind.
But really, we need to get away from thinking nuts = fat, even if it is the right type. When it comes to nuts, we see a food that contains impressive amounts of vitamins, notably the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E, minerals, especially magnesium, dietary fibre, and a host of beneficial polyphenols and bio-active components.
Put all of these components together, and nuts are a quintessentially cardio-protective food, slashing the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing insulin resistance, lowering cholesterol levels, preventing lipid peroxidation, and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. In short a potent ‘prescription’ for cardiovascular disease prevention.
This was borne out in a review of epidemiological studies which found that the risk of heart disease was 37% lower in those consuming nuts more than four times per week compared to those who didn’t consume nuts at all, with an average reduction of 8% for each weekly serving of nuts (1). In one of most impressive nutritional studies ever conducted, known as PREDIMED, carried out on people at high risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those advised to eat a standard low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease by nearly 30% (2)
But it doesn’t stop there, as a higher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of not only heart disease, but also cancer and all-cause mortality (3). In fact, if these associations were proven to be causal, researches estimated that in 2013, 4.4 million premature deaths in America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific would be attributable to a nut intake below 20 grams per day (3).
Let us preempt the criticism that always gets aimed at nuts: all that fat and all those calories; isn’t that just going to make me fat? Nothing could be further from the truth; people who consume nuts regularly appear to be slimmer than those who avoid them and long-term nut consumption is linked with lower body weight and lower risk of weight gain and obesity (4, 5). Nuts have a strong satiety effect, basically leaving you feeling fuller for longer. Which makes nuts both a boon to your health and your waistline in equal measure.
(1) Kelly JH Jr, Sabaté J (2006) Nuts and coronary heart disease: an epidemiological perspective. Br J Nutr 96 Suppl 2:S61-7.
(2) Estruch R (2013) Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med. 368(14):1279-90
(3) Aune D et al (2016) Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med 14(1):207.
(4) Mattes RD (2008) The energetics of nut consumption. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 17 Suppl 1:337-9.
(5) Sabaté J1, Ang Y (2009) Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence.
Am J Clin Nutr 89(5):1643S-1648S