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Nuts about nuts

Clare Jones on the snack that is your friend

Published on April 11th 2011.

Nuts about nuts

WHY do nuts provoke such a strong reaction when I suggest them as a snack food to people who want to lose weight?

All nuts have similar nutritional benefits but each type of nut has a slightly different nutrient profile so varying your choice is a good idea - as long as they are unsalted and unroasted.

Because of their fat content, they are viewed as high calorie foods that should be shunned by anyone wanting to lose weight or maintain their shapeliness.

It's certainly true that gram for gram, fat contains more calories than carbohydrate or protein. However, maintaining a healthy weight is not simply about calories in and calories out, despite what some well-known weight-loss companies would have you believe.

What is more important is what effect particular foods have on our metabolism and, generally speaking, a nutritionally-dense snack like a handful of nuts, which contains fibre, vitamins and minerals, is processed much more efficiently than, say, a bag of crisps.

Click here for a comparison of nutritional values for a standard packet of plain crisps and a snack-sized handful of walnuts.

- For those counting, the calorie content of the walnuts is lower than the crisps.

- The protein content is slightly higher for the walnuts and the fat content slightly lower.

- The carbohydrate content of the walnuts is significantly lower - around three per cent of the carbohydrate content of the crisps.

- The balance between the proportion of protein, fat and carbohydrate in the walnuts make it a more satisfying snack than the crisps (which is why the portion size of the walnuts is smaller). Have a look at the Glycaemic Index (GI) website for more information on this (www.glycemicindex.com).

- The fat in the walnuts includes Omega 3, an ‘essential’ fat (i.e. one that we can't make in the body). Walnuts are a useful vegetarian source of Omega 3 fats, as the main dietary source is oily fish.

- The walnuts also provide a useful source of fibre, the minerals manganese and zinc, vitamin E and B vitamins.

Is it just walnuts?
In fact all nuts have similar nutritional benefits but each type of nut has a slightly different nutrient profile so varying your choice is a good idea - as long as they are unsalted and unroasted. All nuts contain omega 6 fats and monounsaturated fats (sometimes referred to as omega 9) in varying proportions but walnuts are unusual in also containing omega 3 fats.

Different types of nuts will also have different vitamin and mineral profiles, for example, Brazil nuts are a good source of the mineral selenium, cashews are particularly good for magnesium and almonds are high in vitamin E.

Snacking on nuts
Interestingly, several research papers have looked at the impact on health of snacking on nuts:

- A Spanish study, published in 2007, which looked at the relationship between eating nuts and risk of weight gain concluded that (despite the fears of the fat-phobic) people who ate nuts twice or more a week had significantly lower weight gain than those who never ate them.

- A study from 2004 looked at the correlation between nut consumption and the risk of gallbladder disease, a condition associated with eating fatty foods. Despite this, the study found that there was a lower risk of surgery to remove the gallbladder for women who ate 143g or more of nuts per week compared with those who ate none.

- A number of research studies have identified a link between eating nuts and a lower risk of heart disease. There is also evidence that regularly eating nuts may help to avoid raised cholesterol levels.

So, ignore what well-meaning friends tell you about its fat content and embrace the nut. A handful of unsalted, unroasted nuts every day is a great easy-to-carry snack. Or try nut butter on a couple of oatcakes - as well as the obvious peanut butter, you can buy others such as almond or cashew nut butter - delicious!

The advice given here is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health.

Clare Jones, BA(Hons), Dip ION, mBANT
Nutritional Therapy
07985 166606.

If you would like to make an appointment for a personal nutrition consultation with Clare, please contact her on the above number or visit Clare’s website here.

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