Whether it’s hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds or pecans, nuts are a traditional part of Christmas and we’ll probably all be eating more of them during the holidays. Nuts ripen in the autumn, keep well and are a great source of protein and energy – perfect for keeping body temperatures up during the cold, winter months (especially relevant before the luxury of central heating!).
Nuts have long been considered one of nature’s classic superfoods, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a recent study found that eating a daily handful really does help us lead a longer, healthier life. Researchers followed 120,000 participants for 30 years and concluded that frequency of nut consumption was inversely associated with total mortality. In other words – the more nuts participants ate, the less likely they were to die from heart disease, respiratory disease and cancer. Pretty significant, seeing as that’s lots of people over a long period of time.
Why are nuts so good for us?
- Heart-healthy fats – nuts are high in monounsaturated fats (and omega 3 essential fatty acids), which help lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Blood sugar control – nuts reduce the insulin response, helping control diabetes (and inflammation).
- Antioxidants – nuts are rich in vitamin E, which helps neutralize the free radicals that damage our cell DNA – thus are cancer protective.
- Packed with nutrients – nuts are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, as well as numerous other health-promoting phytochemicals.
The researchers in the study didn’t take into account what type of nuts or how they were prepared, so just a couple of extra tips:
- Peanuts aren’t nuts – (they’re actually legumes). They contain anti-nutrients called lectins, are pro-inflammatory and may contain harmful aflatoxins. Switching the peanut butter for almond butter is the healthier choice.
- Opt for non-roasted – heat can damage the delicate fats (less important for almonds, more important for walnuts with their high omega 3 fatty acids). Roasted nuts usually contain lots of salt too.
- Beware if allergies – as good as they are for us, nuts are also among the most allergenic foods (watch out for negative reactions).
- It’s a misconception that nuts make us gain weight – the opposite is true. Just stick to a handful a day (and avoid the chocolate covered kind!)
So don’t forget about nuts after the holidays – they make a healthy snack all year round!