Not so long ago, nutrition experts cautioned people to avoid nuts, as they were considered a "fatty" food. During the "fat-free" era of the 1980s, people across the country shunned fat--no matter its source. 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 (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA)--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--which provide an excellent source of MUFAs, PUFAs and other health-protective nutrients.
Each nut kernel is a concentrated source of key nutrients, including protein, vitamin E, folate, fiber, minerals and phytochemicals, such as flavonoids, proanthocyanidins and phenolic acids. In addition to their healthy MUFAs and PUFAs, walnuts, contain omega-3 fatty acids.
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 scores of 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 Joan Sabate, M.D., Dr. P.H., 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."
Indeed, in a pooled analysis of 25 intervention trials led by Sabate, which was published in a 2010 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, results showed that nut consumption improves blood lipid levels in a dose-related manner, with greater results among people who ate a typical Western diet (high saturated fat, low-fiber) and had high LDL cholesterol levels.