On first take, nuts don't seem like a particularly healthy food because they're loaded with fat. A bowl of mixed nuts averages 78% of calories from fat, while macadamias weigh in at a hefty 95%. That's not encouraging in light of the American Heart Association's recommendations to limit overall fat intake to 30% of the diet. Nuts' high fat may also seem disconcerting to those watching their waistline.
Surprisingly, however, real-world studies of people who eat nuts have discovered only benefits from nut noshing.
Researchers examined the eating habits of 25 000 Seventy-Day Adventists, looking for a relationship between the consumption of 65 different foods and good health. Only one food came out a winner: nuts. People who ate nuts five or more times a week were half as likely to suffer a heart attack or die of heart disease as people who rarely or never ate nuts. This benefit was experienced regardless of age, weight, and activity level. Another study found that women who ate nuts more than two times a week reduced their heart disease risk by 60%.
Why do high-fat nuts appear to be so healthful?
First, most of the fats in nuts are mono- and poly-unsaturated, and both types seem to protect against heart disease.
Second, nuts are high in fiber, vitamin E, and other important factors. Walnuts were found to be especially rich in alpha-acid, which converts to omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3's, also found in fish oil, are known to be helpful in many diseases. Nut protein is high in the amino acid arginine, a substance that can inhibit blood clotting and protect arteries from injury.
Even though nuts are fatty, they don't pass on that attribute to their consumers. Over a period of nine weeks, volunteers who ate 3.5 ounces of almonds a day - 590 calories' worth - didn't gain a pound.
-- Spectrum, September/October, 1996, page 5.
[When nuts and seeds are soaked and sprouted, the fat becomes much more digestible and the vitamin & mineral content rises as much as 800%. - Jim]