For those looking for ways to get themselves into shape as a part of their New Year’s resolutions, finding good-for-you foods that are low in calories is a high priority. Typically, items high in carbohydrates, calories and sugar are eliminated.
Nuts, particularly peanuts, almonds and walnuts, are most likely to be eliminated from people’s diets because of the high calorie count and fat content. However, these nuts may deserve a permanent place in everyone’s diet because of the tremendous health benefits they offer.
For example, according to dietary data collected by the Nurses’ Health Study, eating at least an ounce of nuts, peanuts or peanut butter each week can lower risk of developing gallstones, reduce risk of weight gain and assist in reducing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.
According to WHFoods.com, a Web site created to share scientifically proven information about the benefits of healthy eating, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and cashews each offer their own benefits.
Peanuts, good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folate, protein and manganese, provide needed monounsaturated fats and feature an array of other nutrients that, in numerous studies, have been shown to promote heart health. In addition, peanuts provide resveratrol, the phenolic antioxidant also found in red grapes and red wine.
While unable to boast an antioxidant content that can compete with fruits high in antioxidants, such as the pomegranate, roasted peanuts do rival the antioxidant content of blackberries and strawberries and are far richer in antioxidants than apples, carrots or beets.
A number of studies have shown that nutrients found in peanuts, including folic acid, phytosterols, phytic acid and resveratrol, may help combat cancer.
The niacin found in peanuts also plays a part in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline, according to research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed more than 3,000 Chicago residents age 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. In the project, those getting the most niacin from foods were 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less.
Ounce for ounce, almonds are one of the most nutritionally dense nuts. Providing an array of powerful flavonoids, almonds are among the richest sources of vitamin E.
A one-ounce, 164-calorie serving of almonds – about a handful – is also a very good source of manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2 and phosphorus and delivers heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and other nutrients as well.
Almonds have the ability to reduce the risk of heart disease due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E and the LDL-lowering effect of almonds’ monounsaturated fats. LDL is the form of cholesterol that has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.
By providing potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, almonds can promote cardiovascular health and protect against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
By lessening the increase in free radicals and after-meal surges in blood sugar, almonds protect against both diabetes and cardiovascular disease while promoting optimal health by delivering manganese, copper and 20 potent antioxidant flavonoids that are major contributors to the health benefits derived from other foods, such as the catechins found in green tea, and naringenin, which is found in grapefruit.
Cashews, which have a lower fat content than most other nuts, are a very good source of monounsaturated fats and copper and a good source of magnesium and phosphorus.
As a matter of fact, approximately 75 percent of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, and 75 percent of unsaturated fatty acid content is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, which promotes good cardiovascular health, even in individuals with diabetes.
Studies of diabetic patients show that monounsaturated fat, when added to a low-fat diet, can help to reduce high triglyceride levels.
The magnesium found in cashews helps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, lowers blood pressure, helps prevent heart attacks, promotes normal sleep patterns in women suffering from menopausal sleep disturbances and reduces the severity of asthma.
Even with all of the benefits of nuts, some still do not eat nuts for fear of toxnis or gaining weight or because of allergy issues.
However, according to WHFoods.com, people who eat nuts at least twice a week are much less likely to gain weight than those who almost never eat nuts.
“Frequent nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain (5 kg or more). These results support the recommendation of nut consumption as an important component of a cardioprotective diet and also allay fears of possible weight gain,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, senior scientist and director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory to WHFoods.com.
Allergic reactions can occur with virtually any food, but peanuts are one of the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions.
Some of the most common symptoms for food allergies include eczema, hives, skin rash, headache, runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, gastrointestinal disturbances, depression, hyperactivity and insomnia.
Peanuts and cashews are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals and humans.
When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems, such as an interference with calcium absorption.
Peanuts also contain goitrogens, naturally occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in food. However, it is not clear from the research exactly what percent of goitrogenic compounds get inactivated by cooking or exactly how much risk is involved with the consumption of peanuts by individuals with preexisting and untreated thyroid problems.
Peanuts are susceptible to molds and fungal invasions. Of particular concern is aflatoxin, a known carcinogen that is 20 times more toxic than DDT and has also been linked to mental retardation and lowered intelligence.
In order to help prevent aflatoxin ingestion, the US Food and Drug Administration enforces a ruling that 20 parts per billion is the maximum of aflatoxin permitted in all foods and animal foods, including peanut butter and other peanut products. Roasted peanuts are thought to offer more protection against aflatoxin; roasting is also thought to improve peanuts’ digestibility.
It appears that the benefits offered to nut consumers far surpass the potential risks of weight gain and toxins. It may be that consuming a handful of nuts each day can help promote health and wellbeing throughout the whole body.
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