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Going Nuts Might Be Good For You
by Peter Jaret

Eating nuts is a powerful defense against heart disease. This is the strongly convincing conclusion of a number of long-term studies reported in respected medical journals. Frank Hu, MD, PhD, the lead researcher on a study from the Harvard School of Public Health published the findings from the Nurses' Health Study, covering more than 86,000 women from around the country. (British Medical Journal, November 1998)
They found that women who ate more than five ounces of nuts a day had a 32% lower risk of having a nonfatal heart attack compared to women who avoided nuts, and a 39% lower risk of a fatal heart attack.

This confirms the Iowa Women's Study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, which showed that eating nuts was associated with a 40% reduction in heart disease risk, and an earlier Seventh Day Adventist Study of 34,000 men and women showing that both fatal and nonfatal heart attacks were half as likely among nut eaters non-nut eaters.

Heart-healthy oils

Cashews, almonds, and peanuts are loaded with monounsaturated fats, and walnuts are rich in a form of omega 3 fatty acids, similar to the oils found in fish like salmon. These fats have been shown to lower LDLs [low density lipoproteins], and, together with nuts’ high fiber content, have been shown to help keep cholesterol levels down. Nuts are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E, being, in fact, “perhaps the best natural source of vitamin E," according to the scientists in a Loma Linda University study published in the July 1999 issue of Clinical Cardiology.

Other nutritional benefits

Nutritionists also have long known that nuts are a great source of protein. Indeed, the protein in nuts is unusually rich in an amino acid called arginine, which may also be linked to its heart benefits. Arginine makes possible the synthesis of nitric oxide, which widens and relaxes blood vessels according to Gene Spiller, PhD, founder of the Health Research and Studies Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and the author of Healthy Nuts. That, in turn, may reduce the danger of blood clots that can lead to heart attacks.

Nuts may even have something in common with red wine, which, consumed in moderation, has also been shown to lower heart disease risk. Last year, researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, N.C., announced that peanuts contain resveratrol, the same compound found in red wine that is thought to impart much of its heart benefits. An ounce of red wine contains about 160 micrograms of resveratrol; two ounces of peanuts contain about the same amount.

The new diet snack

The latest findings offer one last surprise, and perhaps the best news of all for nut lovers. Despite being high in fat, cashews, almonds, pecans, and other nuts don't seem to make people fat. When volunteers in the Loma Linda study added a snack of almonds totaling 320 calories a day to their normal diets, for example, their body weight remained the same. Furthermore, in the Nurses' Health Study, Hu and his colleagues found that women who ate nuts frequently actually tended to weigh less than those who didn't. That may be because nuts are so rich in nutrients and fiber that they tend to fill people up on fewer calories than, say, a bag of chips or cheese doodles.

So if you're watching your weight, a handful of nuts is a terrific substitute for less nutritious and less satisfying snacks. And thanks to the latest research findings, you can enjoy them with nary a pang of guilt.

Ed. Note: Nutritionists say raw, unsalted nuts are vastly preferable to those that are salted, roasted in oil, etc., as processing them can seriously impair their nutritional value. Keep shelled nuts in the refrigerator or freezer to retain their vitality. Almonds are one of the best choices. Try them soaked in water for one to three days, changing the water every day. This makes them readily digestible and delicious!