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Research Update on Nutrition Benefits

More reasons to go nuts! A recent round of studies highlights new nut benefits in almonds, pistachios and walnuts. DNN readers may recall “The ‘Nut’ in Nutritious,” our nutrition comparison of various commonly consumed nuts. New hot-off-the-press findings add to the growing body of evidence that nuts can do your body good when consumed in moderation (and without the added salt or oils).

Almonds: Ever wonder how it’s possible to follow dietary advice to eat more of certain healthy foods without gaining weight? New research from Purdue University suggests adding almonds to your diet may automatically lead you to cut back calories elsewhere, thereby avoiding weight gain, while still obtaining all those almond health benefits.

Researchers told 20 overweight women to add 2 ounces of almonds–containing 300 calories–to their daily diet for 10 weeks. Do the math and you’ll see that this would add up to 21,000 extra calories, which (given the 3,500 excess calories it takes to make a pound) would translate into six extra pounds. But these women didn’t gain weight. Instead, they effortlessly ate less of other foods, maintaining a calorie balance, prompting researchers to conclude that almonds made the women feel fuller. Given almonds’ vitamin E, calcium and magnesium, this is an excellent trade–particularly if they displace other, less-healthy foods, like snack foods and animal fats.

Pistachios: Scientists from Virginia Tech found that pistachios contained the highest amounts of phytosterols compared to other commonly consumed nuts or seeds. What are phytosterols? They are naturally occurring plant compounds that bear a remarkable structural similarity to dietary cholesterol.As such, when phytosterols are present in the diet, they inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol by being absorbed themselves.Lower dietary cholesterol is thought to be one way of controlling cholesterol levels in the body. Pistachios are also the top nut source of potassium (helps regulate blood pressure) and a good source of fiber (another cholesterol-controlling nutrient).

Walnuts: Spanish scientists now think it is the omega-3 fat in nuts–rather than the monounsaturated fat in olive oil–which generate most of the protective benefits of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet.” In order to pin down which dietary ingredient was responsible for the diet’s anti-inflammatory effects, researchers divided study subjects into two groups, gave both a really unhealthy meal (high in saturated fats from foods like salami and cheese)–except one group’s meal also contained olive oil, while the other’s contained walnuts.

Guess what? The walnut group showed lower inflammation and oxidation markers. Walnuts also contain gamma-tocopherol, a unique form of vitamin E thought to inhibit prostate and lung cancer.

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