At this time of year squirrels get busy collecting nuts for the winter but have you considered the health benefits of these energy packed gems for yourself?
Excluding those who unfortunately suffer from allergies there is a nut for everyone – almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia. There is a huge variety of shape, size and flavour. All are bursting with health beneficial properties – especially for our hearts. And don’t forget nut butters and nut oils are also full of goodness once eaten in moderation.
High In Protein
Any high energy foods are carbohydrate containing but the protein content of nuts provides a nutritional edge. Essential for building and maintaining strong tissues and muscles.
High In Fibre
Whole nuts contain a lot of carbohydrate in the form of fibre. This helps to maintain good digestive health and provides a slow release energy for the body.
High In fat
The good kinds! Nuts are high in poly unsaturated fats, omega 3 fatty acids and plant sterols. These types of fats, unlike the animal fats found in meats and dairy, promote higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad (LDL) cholesterol in our body. This plays an important role in heart health and the avoidance of coronary heart disease and stroke. Omega 3 fatty acids are also thought to be important in maintaining brain function. Plant sterols are naturally occurring substances and are often added to margarine spreads etc. to boost cholesterol reducing properties of these products – nuts provide a delicious alternative source.
Found naturally in nuts is one of the essential vitamins and is known for its’ anti-oxidant properties. While research is ongoing it is felt that vitamin E may play a beneficial role in the bodies fight against heart disease and diabetes and it is best recommended in the diet in its’ natural form.
Is a nutrient which is felt to play an important part in maintaining the health of blood vessels. There is ongoing research to look at its’ role in diseases such as peripheral vascular disease and heart failure.
Are All Nuts Good?
There is a type of nut to suit every palate – experiment to see which one is your favourite. As with everything moderation is key. Nuts by their nature are so packed with goodness that they are also high in calories. However, unlike the ‘empty’ calories found in processed snacks and confectionary, as you can see above, with nuts you get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’. The best way to eat nuts is as part of a balanced diet. Swop nuts in for snacks that are higher in sugars or saturated fats e.g. a portion of nuts instead of a bag of crisps, toast with nut butter instead of jam. Take care with portion size – a handful of nuts or 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter - and avoid additional empty calories by eating them whole or dry roasted and without added salt.
Nut oils, e.g. walnut oil, are also high in omega 3 fatty acids although the fibre of the ‘whole’ nut is lost. – they have a delicious, delicate flavour but become bitter with age and heating so best bought in small quantities and savoured in salad dressings.
Nut butters – think beyond peanut butter to almond or cashew, they are convenient and versatile and can be a useful addition in baking recipes, increasing protein content and adding flavour. Try adding to flapjacks or with bananas in whole wheat breakfast muffins. Experiment and allow yourself to go a little nuts this autumn – your heart will thank you for it!