Go Nuts for Nuts!

Nuts may come in small packages, but the nutrients they carry far exceed their size. They’ve been a classic favourite over the years: from grandma’s secret bedtime treat to mom’s special ingredient in cakes and cookies, to kids’ favourite healthy snack, nuts can be a tasty and nutritious health food, provided you have them in moderate amounts.

Nuts come in many different varieties with varying nutritional content. Here are the ones that top the list, nutrition-wise:

Walnuts – A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are incredibly healthy for the heart, promote better cognitive functioning and can have anti-inflammatory benefits for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis.

Walnuts also contain the antioxidant compound ellagic acid, which is known to fight cancer and support the immune system. In addition, research suggests that having a few walnuts every day can help protect you from against breast cancer.

Almonds – In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledged that a handful of California almonds can help you maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Almonds are a great source of vitamin E. One ounce of almonds (about 23 almonds) contains about 35% of the recommend daily amount of vitamin E. They are cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and also serve up essential minerals such as magnesium and calcium.

Cashews - Cashews have very high oil content, and are used in various nut butters as an added source of oil. Sixty-five percent of the fat found in cashews consists of unsaturated fatty acids. Of this, 90% is oleic acid, the heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. Cashews pack five grams of protein per ounce and have high levels of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, which are an important part of holistic health solutions and healthy diets.

Pecans – Pecans are an excellent source of more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, several B vitamins and zinc. According to Sue Taylor, director of nutrition communication for the National Pecan Shellers Association, "Recent clinical research studies evaluating the impact of pecans on serum cholesterol have found pecans can significantly help lower blood cholesterol when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet."

Brazil nuts – They may be called Brazil nuts, but their biggest exporter happens to be not Brazil but Bolivia, where they’re called almendras. These nuts are rich in nutrients such as protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fibre, vitamin E and selenium. In a study at the University of Illinois, it has been revealed that high amounts of selenium in Brazil nuts may help prevent breast cancer. Selenium also helps boost the immune system, including slowing the ageing process, while magnesium promotes the release of energy from foods to assist nerve and muscle function and keeps bones healthy.

Macadamia nuts – A study at Hawaii University found that people who added macadamia nuts to their diets for just one month had total cholesterol levels of 191, compared to 201 for those who didn’t. In addition to lowering overall cholesterol levels, these nuts also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Macadamia nuts are also high in protein, fibre, healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and magnesium.

Macadamia nuts also contain palmitoleic acid, a type of mono-unsaturated fatty acid that is believed to increase fat metabolism and reduce fat storage. Macadamias have also been shown to reduce inflammation, besides providing an antioxidant effect. They are a good source of important vitamins and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, vitamin E, and a variety of B vitamins.

Nuts can be a vital source of vitamins and minerals which make up an essential nutritional diet. But always keep in mind that they do contain a lot of fat and calories, and hence should be consumed only in moderation. It is believed that the Romans considered certain nuts to be foods of the gods! But whether or not they come raining down from the heavens, incorporating nuts in your diet can actually turn out to be one of your healthiest moves yet!      - Hewasa