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Which Ones Have What Benefits

Have a few gift tins of nuts floating around the house post-holidays — and worried they may sabotage your New Year’s diet resolutions? Consumed in moderation (and above all, without added salt, sugar or oils), nuts can be healthy.
In 2003, the FDA found enough evidence to approve a qualified health claim to the effect that 1.5 oz (a heaping handful) of nuts per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.Are all nuts created equal? In some ways yes: They’re all cholesterol-free, though calorie-dense (ranging from 240-300 calories per 1.5 oz.). In other ways, they’re strikingly different.
To give one example: The FDA excluded Brazil nuts, macadamias, cashews and pine nuts from the heart-health claim because of higher contents of saturated fat. More positively, nearly each of the commonly consumed nuts have a standout nutrition attribute. The DNI’s Nick Gillitt, PhD., has researched different varieties so we may provide the health highlights for each below.
Well-known Winners:
Almonds deserve their celebrity status if only as the top nut source of alpha-tocopherol, a potent form of vitamin E thought to protect the heart, slow the effects of aging and bolster the immune system.As discussed in the DNNs article “Missing Nutrients,” nearly 90% of men and nearly 100% of women fail to get enough vitamin E! Amazingly, almonds may also help you overcome other nutrient deficiencies, indirectly.Scientists at Loma Linda found that merely adding almonds to the diet can boost intake of nutrients already present in the diet.Walnuts are notable among nuts for good reasons.They’re the only nut that can meet your recommended daily value for heart-healthy, brain-boosting Omega-3 oils in one (1.5 oz) serving.Walnuts also contain phytosterols, compounds similar in structure to cholesterol that can inhibit cholesterol absorption by the body.Walnuts also contain gamma-tocopherol, a unique form of vitamin E thought to inhibit prostate and lung cancer cell division.

Surprise Standouts:

Pecans aren’t only for topping desserts — they’re tops in terms of antioxidant activity as well.Pecans are the highest ranking nut on the ORAC scale, which measures how well different foods neutralize certain kinds of free radicals that can accelerate aging and DNA damage. Other research has found that pecans may dramatically lower blood cholesterol levels — perhaps thanks to both their ample unsaturated fats as well as their phytosterols. Pecans also rival walnuts in gamma-tocopherol content.

Peanuts, like the other nutritionally dismissed “p” food, the potato, too often hide their health benefits under a coating of fat and salt.Though not strictly a nut (they are in fact a legume), peanuts contain more protein than tree nuts. They also contain resveratrol — the potent antioxidant with potential cancer fighting properties.

Though high in healthy unsaturated fats, some peanuts have been cultivated for even higher levels of monounsaturated fat, which may raise levels of good cholesterol and reduce the risk of clogged arteries.Honorable (Mineral) Mentions: Cashews are the top nut source of zinc, a mineral needed to maintain healthy vision and support the immune system.Cashews also contain phytosterols.Pistachios are the top nut source of potassium, a mineral important in the regulation of blood pressure.They also contain phytosterols.Pine nuts pack a powerful punch when it comes to manganese.In fact, they’re the only nut that can meet your recommended daily value of this mineral, essential for bone health and wound healing.

Brazil nuts are perhaps the best source of selenium, a mineral needed for proper thyroid and immune function.Selenium may also protect against cancers of the prostate, liver and lungs.But keep in mind that just one Brazil nut provides 160% of the RDA for selenium — while anything above eight times the RDA could be harmful (leading, eventually, to selenosis, the symptoms of which include brittle hair and nails).How many Brazil nuts in 1.5 oz? Ten – which provide fifteen times the RDA, or twice the upper tolerable level of selenium.So munch with care.

Fat Phenoms (Good & Bad):

Hazelnuts are the top nut source of those heart healthy monounsaturated fats (see peanuts, above).

Macadamia nuts are the highest in total fats and calories and are therefore not really a good choice from a nutrition standpoint. They are, however, an excellent source of vitamin B1 (thiamin).

Published January 9, 2006

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