If you're looking for a nutritious, quick snack, nuts (raw and in moderation) are a near perfect option.
With healthy fats, fiber, plant sterols and many vitamins and minerals, nuts pack a powerful nutritional punch, all wrapped up in a tiny bite-sized package.
In fact, a recent epidemiologic study revealed that nuts offer many benefits for your health, even reducing your risk of serious chronic disease.
Nuts Support Heart Health, Lower Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome Risk
A study involving more than 13,000 people, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at the effect of nut consumption on health risks.
Those who ate nuts gained numerous benefits compared to non-nut eaters, including:
Decreased body mass index and waist circumference
Lower systolic blood pressure
Less likelihood of having two risk factors for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure and low HDL (good) cholesterol (for nut consumers)
Less likelihood of having four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose and a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome (for tree nut consumers)
"Nut/tree nut consumption was associated with a decreased prevalence of selected risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and MetS (metabolic syndrome)."
Other research has further proven that nuts, such as almonds, have superior heart health benefits. A study in the journal Circulation found people with abnormally high level of lipids, such as cholesterol, in their blood, were able to significantly reduce their risk factors for coronary heart disease by snacking on whole almonds.
Nuts impact our heart health in numerous ways. For instance, many (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts) contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers multiple vascular benefits to people with heart disease, or those who have increased risk for heart disease due to multiple cardiac risk factors. L-arginine is a key nutrient in promoting efficient blood flow and overall cardiovascular function. L-arginine is considered one of the "semi-essential" amino acids - meaning, often your body can't produce it in sufficient quantities, so you must obtain adequate quantities from your diet.
A separate study in the journal Obesity also found that eating nuts two or more times per week was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.
Which Nuts are Healthiest?
Generally speaking, each type of nut will offer a slightly different mix of nutrients for your health. For instance:
Almonds: One of the healthiest aspects of almonds appears to be their skins, as they are rich in antioxidants including phenols, flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are typically associated with vegetables and fruits. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry even revealed that a one-ounce serving of almonds has a similar amount of total polyphenols as a cup of steamed broccoli or green tea.
Walnuts: Walnuts are good sources of plant-based omega-3 fats, natural phytosterols and antioxidants that are so powerful at free-radical scavenging that researchers called them "remarkable." Plus, walnuts may help reduce not only the risk of prostate cancer, but breast cancer as well.
Pecans: Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, and research has shown they may help lower LDL cholesterol and promote healthy arteries.
Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are an excellent source of organic selenium, a powerful antioxidant-boosting mineral that may help prevent cancer.
Eating Nuts in Moderation is Best
You need to be cautious with the quantity of nuts you eat, but this is not because they will make you "fat," as many believe. Instead, the reason for moderation is that almost all nuts are top heavy in omega-6 fats and can upset your omega-6/omega-3 ratio. Omega-6 fats, polyunsaturated fats in general can become toxic if you get too much.