Nuts and Seeds: Why you need them

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How often do you eat nuts and seeds? If you’re not in the habit of eating them regularly, you’re definitely missing a trick. Nuts and seeds are full of heart healthy fats, plant sterols and antioxidants, which can have some great benefits for your health. Here are 5 big reasons to make nuts and seeds a key part of your life from now on.

They keep your heart healthy

Nuts are packed with “good” unsaturated fats that are great for keeping your heart healthy. This helps to reduce your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. You can snack on almonds for this, and walnuts have also been shown to reduce cholesterol.

Blood pressure is another marker that can be reduced through seeds, especially flax seed, according to one study.

According to research from the Louisiana State University, people who eat tree nuts are less likely to get cardiovascular disease (and diabetes too). Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews and macadamias are all examples of tree nuts you can snack on to cut your risk of these type of conditions.

A 30-year study from Harvard University involving 119,000 people found that those who ate nuts regularly were 20 per cent less likely to die while the study was in progress compared to those who weren’t eating any nuts at all. One of the things they seemed to be protected from was cardiovascular disease. They were almost 30 per cent less likely to develop heart disease.

If you already have arteries that aren’t as healthy as they can be, studies on rabbits have suggested that flax seed can help to reduce plaque buildup by as much as 40 per cent. It’s not clear at the moment whether this can be also true for humans and more research needs to be done before this can be confirmed one way or the other but there’s no harm in adding more flax seed to your diet anyway.

They can reduce oxidative stress

Sunflower seeds are a really good choice as they contain vitamin E, which is known for being able to reduce oxidative stress in the body. If this is left unchecked, it can set the scene of a lot of serious health problems, including cancer. The 30 year Harvard study also found that people eating nuts on a regular basis cut their cancer risk by 11 per cent.

According to studies, walnuts contain a whole host of compounds that may be able to reduce your breast cancer risk.

They can keep your brain healthy

The omega 3 fatty acids in nuts and seeds can help to keep your brain functioning well. Flax seeds are a great source of fatty acids, with a tablespoon offering over 1.5g. Chia seeds in particular are full of EPA, a fatty acid that is linked to lots of health benefits, including for your brain.

They can keep you ‘regular’

Struggle to go to the bathroom sometimes? The fiber content in nuts and seeds could be just what you need to keep your bowel movements regular. An ounce of flax seeds gives you over 7g of fiber or you can go for the same amount of sunflower seeds and almonds and get over 3g.

They can keep your weight under control

Another bonus finding from the Harvard study involves weight control. The nut eaters tended to be a healthier weight compared to the people who never ate nuts. Researchers aren’t totally sure whether this is to do with the nutrients found in nuts or if people who eat a lot of nuts also have healthier eating habits in general. Other studies have also shown that eating tree nuts can prevent obesity.

Another study found that chia seeds can help with weight loss, especially if you have metabolic syndrome. Even better, including chia seeds in your diet (along with nopal, soy protein and oatmeal) can trigger the production of adiponectin, a hormone that reduces the risk of obesity.

How much to eat?

The health benefits from the Harvard study involved people who were eating nuts at least 7 times in the average week.

The findings from the Adventist Health Study were based on eating nuts 5 times per week and they were even more impressive than the Harvard study.

What about nut butters?

Are nut butters as healthy as whole nuts? They can be a good source of protein and fat but they can get unhealthy when you start adding in alot of sweetners.  Whole nuts and seeds are definitely a better option in comparison. That said, unprocessed nut butters can be added to smoothies and used in cooking, for example. They’re a great protein and good fat boost and also include lots of the nutrients that whole nuts have.

Maybe it’s time to up your nut and seed intake. Even just one handful a day will have a big impact.