Eat 'em, don't eat 'em, eat 'em... that's what we've been told about nuts over the past decade. Once slammed for their high fat and calorie content, nuts are now touted for their LDL (bad) cholesterol lowering effect, healthy fats, fiber, phytosterols, and other antioxidants. Who's to say, though, that next week we won't be told to avoid them again?
Well, that's the tricky part about the science of nutrition - it's always changing based on new, better, and more research. But, the evidence behind the benefits of nuts is now pretty strong. Just this month researchers from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California published a "pooled analysis" of data on almost 600 men and women who had participated in 25 nut consumption trials.1 The results showed that about 2.3 ounces of nuts a day (1/3 cup) reduced total cholesterol levels by 5.1 percent and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 7.4 percent. Furthermore, that amount of nut eating improved the ration of LDL cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol by 8.3 percent and caused a decrease of 10.2 percent in triglyceride levels among people with high levels of those blood fats. Researchers also found that the cholesterol-lowering effects of nut consumption were greatest among subjects with high baseline LDL cholesterol, subjects with low body mass index (weight for height), and subjects consuming Western diets (high in meat, high-fat dairy, refined grains, and fat and sugar-laden foods).
So, if 1/3 cup of nuts is heart-healthy a whole cup of nuts is even healthier, right? Not so fast... Nuts are still high in calories. So, researchers recommended a 3-ounce-a-day limit. People trying to achieve weight loss may need to stick to just one or two ounces per day.
Here's what the Food and Drug Administration recommends: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” And according to FDA, types of nuts eligible for this claim are restricted to almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts.
Want more NUTrition information? Here's a link to a document that provides the nutrients in one ounce of many types of nuts.
Want more information on what one ounce of nuts really looks like? Here's a great graphic.
How might you recommend people mix a few nuts into their meals? We suggest adding a sprinkle of plain (unflavored, unsalted) nuts to salads, yogurt, cereal, pasta dishes, cooked vegetables, and muffin and pancake batter.
1Sabate, J. (2010). Nut consumption and blood lipid levels. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(9), 821-827.