If you want to dramatically decrease your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, control your weight with no hunger pangs and reduce the visible signs of aging like wrinkles and sagging skin, I recommend that you "go nuts." Here's how: When thoughts turn to food between meals, enjoy a handful of raw, unsalted nuts. They're extremely filling and satisfying—and healthful.
Add some nuts to regular meals—a tablespoon of chopped almonds on your oatmeal or a tablespoon of walnuts in your lunchtime salad. Nuts are so versatile they can take the place of flour and breadcrumbs—with a lot more flavor and health benefits. Just remember, as with all things, to use moderation.
While it may seem odd, diets that include moderate amounts of nuts—which are inherently high in fat and calories—help prevent obesity and even reduce weight. A study found that people on a calorie-controlled, "moderate-fat" (35 percent of calories) plan that included nuts and other good fats lost as much weight as dieters on a 20-percent-fat calorie-controlled plan. The moderate-fat group also maintained their weight loss better than the low-fat group over the 18-month test period and beyond—likely because the "moderate-fat, nuts-allowed" group reported fewer problems with sensations of hunger than the low-fat diet group did.
Nuts enhance heart health because of their unique protein, fat, sterol and vitamin profile:
Heart-Healthy Protein: Most nuts are high in arginine, an amino acid that reduces cholesterol levels and, as a precursor to nitric oxide, dilates blood vessels, thus reducing blood pressure and the risk of angina, congestive heart failure and heart attack. Heart-Healthy Fats: Most of the fat in nuts consists of the polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 varieties that reduce blood cholesterol levels. Numerous clinical studies have found that almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts and walnuts all reduce total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in people with normal-to-high cholesterol levels. And, the fatty compounds in nuts' phytosterols inhibit accumulation of fats in artery walls, which promotes angina, strokes and heart attacks. Heart-Healthy Vitamins: Vitamin E—an antioxidant in which almonds are especially rich—helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol that leads to fatty buildup in the arteries. The B vitamin folate, found in many nuts, lowers high blood levels of homocysteine, a strong predictor of heart disease. Heart-Healthy Minerals: Nuts and seeds are generally rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which serve to reduce blood pressure. Heart-Healthy Phytochemicals: The coatings of all nuts and seeds—such as the thin brown papery layer coating almonds and peanuts—are rich in the antioxidant polyphenols associated with reduced risk of heart disease. (Processed nuts and seeds possess fewer of these antioxidants: choose raw nuts in the shell when possible.) Walnuts in particular are high in alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid that is protective to the heart and circulation.
Buying and Storing Nuts
The appetite-suppressing and health benefits of nuts and seeds are lost when they are salted, oiled, roasted, stale, or rancid. And, the fats in nuts and seeds are susceptible to oxidation after they are shelled and exposed to light and air—a process that destroys their nutritional value and degrades their taste.
Accordingly, nuts and seeds should be bought in small quantities and stored in their shells, which shield them against oxidation, in a cool, dry place. Discard any shells with cracks and any nuts or seeds that are discolored, limp, rubbery, moldy, or shriveled, or that have an "off" smell or taste. Store any shelled nuts or seeds in an airtight container in your refrigerator (one week or less) or freezer. Last, prepare your own crushed or slivered nuts, to ensure maximum freshness.
The enzyme inhibitors and phytates in nuts limit the availability of their nutrients. To maximize the nutritional value of nuts, soak nuts in salted water for six to eight hours, drain out the water and oven-dry the nuts on a cookie sheet on low heat. (Cashews become slimy after six hours.)