When you think of nuts, you may think healthy. But concerns persist about nuts because of their high energy density and fat content. Most physicians think patients will gain weight if they eat too many nuts. However, studies show that nuts can be a powerful health food-and help patients lose weight.
Studies have already established the cardio-protective benefits of nuts. Walnuts, in particular, have the highest concentration of omega 3 polyunsaturated acids.
In fact, the American Heart Association recommends nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet. The association notes that nuts-the most studied of which are walnuts and almonds-also can improve blood lipid profiles.1
Four large epidemiological studies have shown that frequent nut consumption lowers the risk of fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease. This fact persisted even after adjusting for known coronary risk factors, such as age, smoking, sex, family history, body weight, physical activity and intake of other protective foods.2-5
The Nurses Health Study also has demonstrated that frequent consumption of nuts is inversely related to the risk of type 2 diabetes, with up to a 30 percent reduction in risk for those consuming nuts more than five times a week.6 Several prospective studies have shown that nuts improve blood lipid parameters in men and women with normal and abnormal lipid profiles.7-11 Therefore, it seems common sense to recommend a variety of nuts to achieve maximum health benefits.
Despite this strong beneficial evidence, physicians (and the general public) have been reluctant to endorse adding nuts to an otherwise heart-healthy diet, primarily out of concern for weight gain.
However, no evidence seems to indicate that weight gain occurs from eating more nuts. In fact, data seem to indicate the opposite. For example, in Mediterranean countries, where the per capita consumption of nuts is almost double that of the United States, the rate of obesity is significantly lower. In fact, an inverse relationship exists between Mediterranean dietary patterns and BMI/obesity, even when controlling for other potentially confounding factors, such as lifestyle.12
In addition, large cohort studies that reported a decrease in the risk of coronary artery disease with frequent nut consumption have shown an inverse relationship-or none at all-between frequency of nut intake and BMI.13