Nuts often times receive a bad rap because they are high in calories. However, nuts are energy and nutrient dense and provide numerous health benefits. Consumption of nuts has been associated with a decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI) and Coronary Heart Disease. Nuts contain protein which can help you stay fuller longer, fiber that promotes healthy bowel function, and unsaturated fats that help to prevent hardening of the arteries. They also lower LDL Cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). Omega -3 fatty acids, which are also known as the “healthy fats”, are found in nuts and have many benefits such as controlling blood clotting. Nuts also contain magnesium which is required for the body to produce energy, copper which is required to make collagen, folic acid and vitamin E.
The most popular nut in the United States is the peanut. Peanuts and peanut butter make up 67% of all nut consumption. A serving of peanuts (about 28 peanuts) contains 161 calories, 7 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. Peanuts also include good amounts of niacin, potassium, phosphorus and folate.
Out of all the nuts, pecans take first place with the highest antioxidant capacity. In one serving of pecans (about 19 halves), there are 196 calories, 10% of the recommended fiber intake, no sodium or cholesterol, and 17 grams of unsaturated fats. Pecans also contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, fiber and protein. They are cholesterol free and low in sugar. Almonds are also a good source of vitamin E and magnesium. One serving of almonds is 1oz (about 23 almonds), and contains 164 calories, 4 grams of fiber, the highest of all the nuts, and 6 grams of protein.
In a serving of walnuts (about 14 halves), there are 185 calories, 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. They contain the highest amount of omega-3s compared to other nuts. Walnuts are a good source of magnesium and phosphorous.
Studies show that people who eat nuts a minimum of two times a week are less likely to gain weight compared to those who never eat nuts. Nuts can be easily added to any meal or snack. Add them to your oatmeal in the morning, swap them in for a protein source in your salad at lunch, or use them on top of your salmon at dinner time. Nuts are an excellent school snack packed with protein and fiber to hold you over until the next meal. Mixing nuts with dried fruit makes a delicious combination for those with a sweet tooth.
Although nuts contain all of these great benefits, it is easy to over consume nuts, which can drastically increase your calorie consumption. Remember that one serving of nuts equals one ounce, which is about a handful.
Contributed by Rachel Pfister:
Healthy Tiger Undergraduate Sports Nutrition Intern & Graduate of LSU Dietetics Program