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Nuts To You!
Photo: Krzysztof Slusarczyk
The news about nuts is old news. And by old news, we mean back to the time of creation. Nuts were part of the original diet provided to Adam and Eve. God provided plants producing seeds (grains) and trees producing fruit which bears seeds (fruits and nuts).

There is also more current news about nuts. The health benefits of eating nuts were first brought to the forefront of science by researchers at Loma Linda University (including Dr. Joan Sabate) through the Seventh-day Adventist Health Study, in the early 1990s. This landmark study is frequently referred to as the beginning of the consciousness of scientists regarding the possible significance of dietary nut consumption.

During the following years, large population studies (Iowa Women's Health Study, Harvard's Nurses' Health Study, Physicians' Health Study, and Health Professionals Study) also demonstrated that nut consumption decreased the risk of heart disease.

People who consumed nuts five times or more per week experienced approximately a 50 percent reduction in risk of dying from heart disease when compared to people who consumed nuts less than one time per week. Even when people consumed nuts one to four times per week, the data showed a 25 percent reduced risk of dying from heart disease.

The population studies looked at people who were already eating nuts—male and female, black and white and all adult age groups. But researchers wondered if something else about the people who ate nuts protected them from heart disease.

To answer this challenge, researchers began giving people nuts to eat and then monitoring to see what would happen. Multiple dietary studies have been done using different kinds of nuts to determine the effect on the body from eating nuts. Almonds, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and macadamia nuts have all been studied.

Nuts Reduced Cholesterol

The results were consistent. Diets containing nuts (including nut oils or nut butters) significantly reduced the levels of total cholesterol and the “bad” (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood. In addition to lowering cholesterol in the blood, there are other protective effects of nuts. Nuts contain dietary fiber, which is associated with decreases in total cholesterol. Vitamin E, shown to reduce cardiovascular risk, is present in nuts. Nuts also contain other plant proteins that reduce blood cholesterol.

Are some nuts better than others? Almonds, peanuts, pecans, or walnuts have shown consistent evidence for improving blood lipids. The evidence for macadamia nuts is not as clear. Peanuts are really classified as a “ground nut,” but evidence has shown effects similar to “tree nuts.”

Currently, studies have demonstrated that walnuts have the greatest effect on decreasing coronary heart disease. They contain a combination of fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) that is particularily effective in not only lowering blood cholesterol, but also improving the function of the lining of the blood vessels. Walnuts also have the highest antioxidant content among nuts. The total antioxidant content of foods is an important factor in the prevention of chronic diseases.

If nuts are so good for you, how many should we eat? One ounce of nuts (approximately one-quarter cup of shelled nuts) average 180 calories. One ounce is approximately 20-24 almonds, 18-20 pecan halves, 8-11 walnut halves, 18-20 hazel nuts, or 10-12 macadamia nuts. The recommendation is to eat a serving at least five times per week.

Since nuts contain high-density calories, you should not add them to your current diet, but replace unhealthy foods with nuts. You will actually lose weight by including nuts in your diet—if you don't change the amount of calories you eat. Now that is a nutty idea!

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By Dynnette Hart. Portion reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, January 2008. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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