Are nuts good for you?

By Hannah Buckland, Healthy Hearts Care Planner

One of the most frequent questions we get asked at Healthy Hearts is: “Are nuts good for you?” There appears to be a lot of confusion around whether nuts should or should not be included in a heart healthy diet. In this article, we take a look at the evidence to provide you with all the information you need to know about nuts.

Many people think of nuts as unhealthy because of their fat content. However, observational studies report that people who eat more nuts are likely to have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from all causes. Nuts have a reasonably high fat content, but they contain mainly healthier unsaturated fats. Replacing saturated fat with some unsaturated fat helps to reduce total cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk. Fat is also a source of essential fatty acids and it helps the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. A small amount of fat is, therefore, an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. As well as unsaturated fats, nuts provide us with fibre, vitamins, and minerals – all of which are beneficial for heart health. They are also a great source of protein, particularly for those following plant-based diets. Walnuts in particular provide a good vegetarian source of omega-3 fats. Providing you are not allergic; we would therefore encourage you to include nuts in your diet.

There are plenty of ways you can consume nuts. They make a great addition to salads, stir-fries and curries, and work well sprinkled on top of breakfast cereals or porridge. Nuts can also be a great substitute for snacks that are higher in sugar and unsaturated fat, such as biscuits, cake and chocolates. Here are our top tips for how to include nuts in a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Because of their fat content, nuts are high in calories, so it is best to limit your portion size to a small handful (30g).
  • Try to choose unsalted nuts without coatings, which often contain sugar, fat, or salt. Why not try flavouring them yourself? You can toast them in the oven and add spices such as paprika or cayenne pepper, or cinnamon for a sweeter flavour.
  • Many people find nuts quite ‘more-ish’, so if you feel you’d be tempted to eat more than 30g, try measuring out your portion and putting the rest of the packet back in the cupboard.
  • Remember, variety is key – if you eat a range of nuts, you’re more likely to benefit from all the different nutrients they provide.

A quick note on nut butters, nut milks and nut bars. There is now a large variety of nut butters available, some of which are flavoured. With all nut butters, it is important to check the added ingredients for any oils, sugars/syrups or salt – try to choose ones that contain only nuts. Also keep an eye on the portion size and try to stick to 30g, which is two heaped teaspoons. Nut milks have also increased in popularity. They usually only contain small amounts of nuts, so are lower in protein than dairy milk. Choose nut milks that are unsweetened and have added calcium. Finally, many snack bars contain nuts. Always check the ingredients and nutrition information, as they may be high in sugar or salt. It is often healthier to choose a handful of unsalted nuts as an alternative.

Hopefully, we have cleared up any confusion around nuts and you now feel confident on how to include them in your diet. Remember, no one food can help you achieve good health. It is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes a variety of foods in the right proportions. If you would like any further nutrition support and guidance, our team can help. Call us on 020 3434 2500 or sign up here.

References

BHF (2021). Are nuts good for you? BHF. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/are-nuts-good-for-you [Accessed 11th May 2021].

BHF (2021). I’m confused – are nuts a healthy snack? BHF. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/ask-the-expert/nuts-as-a-healthy-snack [Accessed 11th May 2021].

British Nutrition Foundation (2017). Go nuts for nuts! British Nutrition Foundation. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/bnf-blogs/nuts.html [Accessed 17th May 2021].

NHS (2019). Eat well. NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/ [Accessed 11th May 2021].

NHS (2020). Fat: the facts. NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/different-fats-nutrition/ [Accessed 11th May 2021].

Rhitrition (2021). Cardiovascular disease and helping your heart health. Rhitrition. Available from: https://rhitrition.com/food-for-a-healthy-heart/ [Accessed 11th May 2021].

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