Wellness in a Nutshell

What if I told you there was a product on the market that could lower incidences of heart disease and cancer, aid in weight loss, reduce blood pressure and protect the brain from age-related cognitive dysfunction? What if I added that this product could also lower cholesterol, remedy certain nutritional deficiencies, scavenge oxidative free radicals, help reduce Metabolic Syndrome and increase one’s longevity as much as 20%? You would probably think that I was referring to a novel, cutting edge  “miracle” pharmaceutical drug or on the contrary, some quack-inspired “snake oil” advertisement in a tabloid newspaper, email spam or a TV infomercial. The “miracle” product has actually been around for thousands of years. We are talking nuts, those nutrient powerhouses that grow on trees and have been enjoyed by wildlife and humans since time immemorial. All of the health benefits of nuts previously mentioned are real, corroborated by an extensive amount of current scientific research. One study, conducted by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in conjunction with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. After analyzing 30 years of data on men and women, the researchers concluded that people consuming  1 oz. of nuts on a daily basis had a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality, including a reduction in rates of heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases, when compared to those who didn’t eat nuts . Other studies on populations in the Netherlands and China reached similar conclusions. The beauty of all this is that it only takes a daily dose of 1 oz. of nuts- about a handful. The cost will be from 70 cents to a dollar a day, depending on the variety, for the finest organic nuts available. This just may be the most cost-effective insurance policy you could ever purchase.

If nuts are high in fat calories (and with the exception of chestnuts, they are), why are those who eat them on a daily basis no heavier than those who abstain from them? The answer may lie in the fact that nuts are rich in healthy oils and protein. They are digested slowly, have a low or non-existent glycemic index, and give a feeling of fullness and satiety. The urge to snack on junk food or gorge at the dinner table may be allayed by eating a handful of nuts. Nuts also contain phytosterols that can help lower LDL blood cholesterol levels and various flavonoids and proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that can combat free radicals and help prevent blood lipid oxidation.

So, which nuts are best? Much of the data in the long-term studies were based on the total nut consumption of all varieties. The safe answer may be to consume a wide variety of nuts since each type has certain nutritional strengths not necessarily found in other varieties (not to mention different flavor profiles as well). For example, almonds are the only nut containing a significant amount of calcium. Brazil nuts are much higher in selenium than any other nut while pistachios have the most phytosterols. Pecans possess the greatest amount of antioxidants and walnuts are the only nut with appreciable quantities of omega-3-fatty acids.  Essential minerals, including magnesium, copper, zinc and manganese, are found in high amounts in most nuts. Magnesium is especially important in that it is a critical component of so many metabolic pathways including being a co-factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions and is often a mineral that people are deficient in. Zinc is an integral component of our immune system and is important to male reproductive health while manganese is necessary for bone formation and skin health.

Unless you are allergic to nuts, you would be nuts to ignore the health benefits they afford us.  When it comes to NUTrition, look no further than the jewel inside the nutshell.