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What’s stopping you from eating nuts and seeds?

Created date

March 22nd, 2018
various nuts and seeds arranged neatly in squares

Practically all nuts are an excellent source of manganese. Some studies suggest that this mineral may help osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and anemia. Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

 

It wasn’t all that long ago that people with heart disease were cautioned to steer clear of nuts because they are high in fat and calories. Since then, studies have shown that most people, including people with heart disease, could improve their health by including these crunchy snacks as part of a healthy eating plan.

Add seeds to that list.  “From a nutritional standpoint, nuts and seeds are essentially the same,” says Lyn Dart, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., registered dietitian and associate professor at Texas Christian University’s Department of Nutritional Sciences in Fort Worth, Tex. “When it comes to food groups, nuts and seeds are at the top of the list for nutrient density.”

Benefits for your body

Nuts and seeds contain many compounds that have been shown to benefit health such as unsaturated fats, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and Larginine—an amino acid that may keep blood vessel walls healthy. They are also high in minerals such as copper, iron, and magnesium. “Nutrients in nuts have beneficial effects on many parts of your body,” Dart says. “They may help to reduce inflammation, which has been implicated as part of many health problems.”

“Research studies suggest that including nuts and seeds in your diet may reduce your risk of major diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer,” Dart explains.

One type of nut or seed is not necessarily more healthful than another, but certain kinds can contain more of one nutrient. “Walnuts are among the best for heart health,” Dart says. “They are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids.”

Along with walnuts, the American Heart Association (AHA) lists almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and pistachios as especially heart healthy. Research also shows that macadamia nuts may belong on that list. “If you aren’t fond of one type of nut, try another,” Dart advises. “Varying your choices can make it less likely that you’ll tire of one type.”

Seeds to try include chia, flaxseeds, hemp, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower.

When crunchiness is not a good thing

Your teeth may not be as strong as they once were, so crunchy nuts can cause pain or damage your teeth. Seeds can become stuck in between teeth and gums, and dental work or dentures may also be a hindrance.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. “Health benefits are not limited to the whole form,” Dart says. “Nut and seed butters are essentially as healthful.”

Some nuts are harder to chew than others (almonds are among the hardest). You can try slicing them, or try softer varieties such as pecans.

In addition to dental problems, nuts and seeds can cause gastric problems for certain people. “If you don’t chew them well, nuts may not be fully digested,” Dart says. “Because seeds are so small, many of them get swallowed whole, and this can cause stomach distress.”

“A good way to bypass problems eating nuts and seeds is to grind them thoroughly in a blender,” Dart adds. “You can sprinkle the powder on salads, soups, or practically any food.”

How much is too much?

The AHA and the American College of Cardiology specifically recommend nuts as part of a healthy diet to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Other recommended foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, fish, skinless poultry, and low-fat dairy products.

There are no universal guidelines, however, about how many daily or weekly servings are best. “Dietary recommendations are contingent upon someone’s individual health,” Dart explains. “An older adult who is underweight and needs extra calories may need to eat more nuts and seeds than someone who needs to lose some weight.”

Nuts can be composed of up to 80% fat, but it is unsaturated fat. “Some people are concerned with the high fat content,” Dart says. “But this fat may help prevent some types of heart disease, and recent research suggests that people who eat nuts regularly tend to maintain a healthy weight. This could be the case because the fat in nuts and seeds makes you feel full, which may help you reduce your overall calorie intake for the day.”

It is easy to find ways to add nuts and seeds to your diet. “There are numerous recipes and preparation ideas available,” Dart says. “The trick is to get creative and incorporate them into foods you already eat.”

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