Did you know that there is an association between eating nuts and seeds and living a longer, healthier life? It’s true. Still, I find people who shy away from eating nuts and seeds because they think of them as fattening. Yes, nuts and seeds are calorie-dense, so they are not for snacking. But they have many wonderful properties and are packed with helpful nutrients, so a more healthful approach is to eat nuts and seeds as a replacement for the calories supplied by meats, oils and processed food in our diet. One way to add nuts and seeds deliciously is by replacing an oil-based salad dressing with one made from vinegar, and seeds and nuts. Oil is not a whole food – it is a processed food – and it’s low in nutrients and more calorically concentrated. When we get more of our fats from wholesome foods and less from processed oils, we extend lifespan.
A Favorable Food for Heart Health and Diabetes
Epidemiological studies have consistently shown that nut consumption is beneficial to heart health. Eating five or more servings of nuts per week is estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 35 percent. Eating nuts and seeds protects against sudden cardiac death and reduces cholesterol and inflammation. In addition to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, nuts have a number of properties that make them a favorable food for diabetics:
- Nuts provoke a minimal glycemic response, which helps to prevent post-meal hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and AGE production; a harmful compound that speeds up cell damage and is thought to play a role in blood vessel complications. Nuts also help to reduce the glycemic load of an entire meal—almonds have been found to decrease glycemic and insulin response of a carbohydrate-rich meal while reducing oxidative stress on cells.
- Nuts aid in weight maintenance—important since excess weight is the primary risk factor for diabetes. Despite their calorie density, greater nut consumption is associated with lower body weight, potentially due to appetite-suppression they cause and that a significant portion of the calories present are not absorbable, but pass through to the toilet.
- Nuts have anti-inflammatory effects that may help to prevent insulin resistance.
In a study of glycated hemoglobin or HbA1C, an indicator of long-term glycemic control, diabetics consumed either 2.5 ounces a day of mostly raw mixed nuts or an equivalent number of calories in a muffin—the muffin had the same amount of fiber and calories as the nuts. HbA1C levels were lower in the nut group, suggesting long-term protection from hyperglycemia when replacing carbohydrate foods with nuts.
This data cements the results of previous observational studies that have found inverse relationships between nut consumption and diabetes. For example, the Nurses’ Health Study found a 27 percent reduced risk of diabetes in nurses who ate five or more servings of nuts per week. Among nurses who already had diabetes, this same quantity reduced the risk of heart disease by 47 percent.
Nuts are an important part of a diabetes-reversal diet, along with green vegetables, beans, and low-sugar fruits. In a recent study of type 2 diabetics following my dietary protocol, found that 90 percent of participants were able to come off all diabetic medications, and the mean HbA1c after one year was 5.8 percent, which is in the normal, non-diabetic range. Nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetables not only keep glucose levels in check, but can save lives.
Incorporating More Nuts and Seeds into Your Diet
To incorporate more nuts and seeds into your diet, try tossing a few walnuts or some flaxseed in your oatmeal in the morning or lightly toast some nuts and seeds and add them to a salad at lunch or dinner. Use a high-speed blender to pulverize them and use the mixture as a basis for a creamy dip or salad dressing. I sometimes grind nuts and mix them with oats to form a pie crust. This is a much healthier option than a traditional flour crust. Each nut and seed has a unique nutritional profile that lends unique health benefits. Some of my favorites are:
- Almonds are rich in antioxidants. In one study, people ate either almonds or a snack with a similar fat profile each day for 4 weeks, and the subjects who ate almonds showed reduced oxidative stress markers.
- Walnuts. Diabetics who ate walnuts daily for 8 weeks experienced an enhanced ability of the blood vessels to dilate, indicating better blood pressure regulation.9 There is also evidence that walnuts may protect against breast cancer.
- Pistachios and Mediterranean pine nuts have the highest plant sterol content of all the nuts; plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, and help to lower cholesterol levels. Pistachios reduce inflammation and oxidative stress as well as cholesterol.
- Mediterranean pine nuts contain a specific type of fatty acid that has been shown to curb appetite by increasing hormones that produce satiety signals.
- Flax, hemp, and chia seeds are extremely rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and hemp seeds are especially high in protein, making them a helpful food for athletes.
- Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, calcium, and phytochemicals, and may help to prevent prostate cancer.
- Sesame seeds have the greatest amount of calcium of any food in the world, and provide abundant amounts of vitamin E and contain a lignan called sesamin; lignan-rich foods may protect against breast cancer.
Nuts and seeds are best eaten raw or only lightly toasted. Overly roasting nuts and seeds forms a potentially harmful compound called acrylamide, and reduces the amounts of minerals and amino acids. Also, remember that eating nuts and seeds with leafy greens can enhance the body’s absorption of fat-soluble nutrients from the greens, so a nut-based salad dressing is an excellent way to absorb more nutrients from your salads. One of my favorite dressings blends cashews, unhulled sesame seeds, a peeled navel orange and some blood orange vinegar or white vinegar. Try some of my creative and delicious nut-seed dressings and dips to maximize your health and lifespan.
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Ma Y, Njike VY, Millet J, et al: Effects of walnut consumption on endothelial function in type 2 diabetic subjects: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Diabetes Care 2010;33:227-232.
Â Eurekalert! Walnuts slow prostate tumors in mice: UC Davis research shows walnuts affect genes related to tumor growth
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Written By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.