Go Nuts for Nuts

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Filed Under: Diet, Cholesterol
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Go Nuts for Nuts

Many people assume that since nuts are high in fat, they must be unhealthy or they make you fat. Both of these assumptions are wrong.

Research has shown over and over again that by simply eating nuts you can improve your blood-lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglyceride levels), significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, and lose weight. Nuts are one of nature's best kept secrets.

Many of their benefits come from their rich EFA content, particularly the omega-6 fatty acids and the omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids.

Nuts release oils in a way that makes them behave differently than oils that have been extracted. Paul Davis and his colleagues at the University of California discovered that the body's absorption and processing of extracted nut oils is the same as any other oil or fat. However, when nuts are consumed, the oil from the nut enters the bloodstream slower, peaks about an hour later, and is rapidly flushed out of the bloodstream.

This characteristic is important because the longer digested fat circulates in the bloodstream, the greater the risk of developing heart disease. Nuts are like "time release" pills of beneficial fatty acids. This finding helps explain how adding nuts to your regular diet can help drop cholesterol levels.

Almonds, which contain about 65 percent omega-9 fatty acids, have the greatest influence on blood cholesterol levels. Other nuts such as hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and macadamias are also great sources for this form of "time release" omega-9 fatty acids. Between 55 and 83 percent of their fats are of the omega-9 variety. Even half the fat in peanuts (though technically a legume, not a nut) are of this same basic variety.

To obtain results like those in the study, you need roughly three ounces of nuts a day—though less can still be helpful. A handful weighs roughly an ounce. 

Not only are nuts the perfect storehouse for highly unstable essential fatty acids, they are one of the best sources for natural vitamin E. They are also a relatively good source for minerals like magnesium and potassium, and contain the amino acid arginine, which the body uses to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide (NO) improves blood flow to the heart muscle in times of low oxygen levels and also acts as a powerful antioxidant. 

Now it's your turn: What's your favorite nut, and why?

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