Not so long ago, nutrition experts cautioned people to avoid nuts, as they were considered a "fatty" food. Now, health researchers have come full circle, understanding that the type of fat is far more important than how much fat you eat.
Research supports that healthy fats -- monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat -- actually lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. A body of evidence has accumulated on the health benefits of tree nuts -- almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts.
Nuts' nutrient-rich package boosts their ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that are the root of chronic disease. In addition, studies show that if you include nuts for a snack instead of other choices, your overall nutrient intake for the entire day will be improved.
While many studies have examined the impact of eating nuts on a variety of conditions, the most concrete link exists for heart health. "It's well established that people who eat nuts on a regular basis have a lower risk of heart disease," says nutrition researcher Dr. Joan Sabate, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Loma Linda University in California. "It is clear that there are many mechanisms by which eating nuts reduce heart disease. They reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol, contain powerful antioxidants and influence inflammatory parameters. This is well established in clinical trials of different populations and different countries."
Eating nuts can help manage and prevent Type 2 diabetes. "Research shows that females who regularly eat nuts in general, and in particular walnuts, have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. And a small clinical trial found that nuts incorporated into the diet of diabetics helped control blood cholesterol levels," says Sabate.
Aim for one handful -- about 11/2 ounces -- per day of a variety of tree nuts to make the most of their benefits. Sprinkle nuts on salads, vegetables, side dishes, cereals, fruit and yogurt. Stir them into baked goods, such as pancakes and cookies.