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Include nuts in your diet to help protect against heart disease and cancer.

Evidence of nuts' beneficial effects continues to mount. Ina recent study, participants who ate nuts three or more times a week, along with a Mediterranean-style diet, had a 39 percent lower mortality risk from cardiovascular disease and cancer than participants who did not include nuts in their diets, according to research published in BMC Medicine, July 16, 2013.

However, adding nuts to an otherwise unhealthy diet--one that contains fatty meats, processed foods, and foods high in added sugar and/or sodium--won't counteract the negative effects.

"Keep in mind that your overall diet is more important than focusing on individual foods," advises Adee Rasabi, RD, CDN, CDE, CSG, a clinical dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Corneli. "In the study, the participants who had lower mortality rates ate a Mediterranean-style diet that was supplemented with nuts." Many studies have shown that a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in plant foods and low in meats, sweets, and processed foods, is healthy; it has been linked with lower risks of heart disease, cancer, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Valuable nutrients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests that eating one serving of most nuts daily will help lower your risk of heart disease. Eating nuts also has been associated with prevention of some types of cancer, and with better control of blood glucose levels.

To provide all of these benefits, nuts carry a heavy load of nutrients, including:

* Protein, which provides support to all of the tissues in your body; it plays a key role in bone and muscle strength and fluid balance.

* Fiber, which helps lower LDL cholesterol, regulates blood glucose, prevents constipation, and reduces risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes; it also can help with weight management.

* Potassium and magnesium, two minerals that play a major role in controlling blood pressure.

* Plant sterols, which help prevent LDL ("bad") cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. In addition, nuts are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, two types of polyunsaturated fats believed to contribute to heart health. Omega-3s and omega-6s are both effective in lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and increasing HDL levels. Nuts also contain monounsaturated fats, which have been found to help lower serum cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels. (All nuts also contain a small amount of saturated fat.)

An ounce of walnuts has 2.5 grams of omega 3-fatty acids, a substance that has been associated with lower rates of heart attack and stroke, as well as better brain function. Eating a serving of walnuts (about 14 halves) satisfies the Institute of Medicine's dietary recommendation for daily omega-3 intake.

Munch in moderation. Nuts are rich in nutrients, but they also are calorie-dense, and excess calorie intake can lead to weight gain,

"You don't need to eat a lot of nuts to get their nutritional benefits; limit your intake to one serving per day. A serving size of nuts is one ounce, or about one-quarter cup," says Rasabi. "Also, choose nuts that are raw, unroasted or dry roasted, unsalted, and that aren't covered with sugary coatings, such as chocolate or yogurt"

Since nuts differ in size, the number of nuts in an ounce varies depending on the type of nut. For example, 14 walnut halves and 24 whole almonds are each equivalent to one serving.

When you're snacking, use nuts as a substitute for foods that contain saturated fat and/or carbohydrates. Swap nuts for processed meats, such as pepperoni or salami, or for crackers or snack foods that are fried and/or made primarily of refined white flour.

"Portion out one serving of nuts and pair it with a fruit or vegetables for a healthy snack," suggests Rasabi.

Made from nuts. Nut butters have the same nutrition profile as whole nuts--as long as they contain no sugar, salt, or added preservatives. "Check the ingredients list--the only ingredient should be that particpular nut," says Rasabi. One serving of nut butter is two tablespoons; some are now available in pre-packaged servings, so you can get them to go.

Be cautious with granola bars, protein bars, and snack bars that contain nuts. They may sound healthy, but often, they are loaded with added sugar, refined grains, and other empty-calorie ingredients. "Some snack bars that contain nuts are just one step up on the nutrition scale from a candy bar," notes Rasabi.


* Add walnuts or almonds to oatmeal, high-fiber cereal, or low-fat yogurt.

* Sprinkle nuts on salads or cooked vegetables.

* Create "grab and go" snacks by portioning nuts into one-ounce servings and storing in small plastic bags.


Eat frequently

Walnuts: Highest in omega-3s; also contain Vitamins B-1 and B-6, folic acid, and zinc

Almonds: Rich in monounsaturated fats, niacin, vitamin E; contain calcium and iron

Eat in moderation

Pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans (still healthy but not as good as walnuts and almonds)

Eat infrequently

Cashews, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts (higher in saturated fat than other nuts, although they still contain a much higher percentage of unsaturated fat than saturated fat)
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Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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