Nuts and Seeds Offer a Wealth of Health Benefits
If you’re looking for a snack that’s rich in essential vitamins and minerals, may help in weight management, and offers heart- and brain-health benefits, consider adding a handful of mixed nuts to your daily diet.
Nuts and seeds are highly nutritious, low in carbs, and jam-packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and an array of phytochemicals. Research suggests eating nuts and seeds can lower the risk of certain conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
Although nuts and seeds pack a wallop of nutrients and complement a well-balanced diet, they’re best eaten in moderation because of their high-fat and caloric content. But even though they’re high in fat, nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which are preferred heart-healthy substances. However, eating them in excess, as with eating anything in excess, can be counterproductive when you’re seeking to eat more healthful snacks void of fat and calories.
What makes nuts and seeds so beneficial?
Nuts and seeds are considered superfoods, meaning a little bit can go a long way in providing a wealth of health benefits. These superfoods:
- Won’t affect your lipid panel. If anything, they could even lower bad cholesterol levels. Consuming them in moderation won’t increase your triglycerides or cholesterol. Research shows consumption does not affect your lipid panel nor does it affect weight or blood pressure.
- Contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, but many nuts are also rich in this nutrient. Did you know the brain is made up of 50 to 60 percent omega-3 fats? These nutrients are key to the structure of every cell wall in the body; they’re an excellent source of energy; and they help keep the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, and immune system functioning properly. When there is an imbalance, the risk for neurodevelopment disorders increases.
- Are packed with fiber. Fiber is necessary to regulate the immune system, fight inflammation, and help keep the bowel system regular and working. Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, which is important for gut health. How much is needed? If you’re over the age of 50, the Institute of Medicine recommends 21 grams per day for women and 30 grams per day for men. A handful of nuts provides nearly four grams of fiber.
- Contain Vitamin E and L-arginine. Nuts and seeds are a great source for Vitamin E, which deters the development of plaque in your arteries. A buildup of plaque in the artery walls can lead to heart disease, angina, and cardiac arrest. L-arginine is a substance that can improve blood flow by making the artery walls more flexible and less prone to blockages.
- Are an excellent source of protein. Some nuts and seeds are higher in protein than others, which makes eating a variety a good idea. Protein helps your body repair cells and generate new ones. Protein should be about 15 to 25 percent of your daily calories. For older adults, that translates to 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal.
- Contain sizeable amounts of folate. This B-vitamin is necessary for normal cellular function.
- Are antioxidant powerhouses. They contain antioxidant vitamins and phenolic compounds, which aid in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress creates an imbalance in the body, which allows an excess of free radicals in the body’s cells. Free radicals can damage cells and lead to illness and unhealthy aging. Nuts and seeds have been shown in studies to suppress oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.
- Contain phytosterols. This substance may help lower cholesterol. Sterols occur naturally in nuts and seeds.
How often should nuts and seeds be eaten and why?
The American Heart Association recommends eating about four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Raw or dry-roasted options are preferred over those cooked in oil. A serving is about a small handful of nuts and about a tablespoon of seeds.
Most nuts contain a host of beneficial nutrients. For good heart health, choose walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans. Select walnuts and almonds for their antioxidant properties. To promote weight loss, opt for almonds. Pistachios may help reduce triglycerides plus fight inflammation. Brazil nuts are beneficial in fighting inflammation as well. So, when you eat an assortment, you cover all your bases.
How to incorporate them into your diet
- Add pumpkin seeds to salads, oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, and quinoa for added flavor, fiber, and texture.
- Add nuts and seeds—like pine nuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds—to smoothies. These choices are great for their protein, fiber, and omega-3 nutrients.
- Prepare your own trail mix with a blend of nuts and seeds and add the mix to yogurt or enjoy a handful as a snack.
The bottom line
A well-balanced diet that includes eating nuts and seeds can deliver a host of heart- and brain-health benefits. The key to enjoying this nutritious, high-fiber superfood is in moderation. The Aviv Medical Program provides dietary coaching and consultations to ensure your diet aligns with your cognitive and physical goals.