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Nuts and seeds

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

So what's the big deal?

The good news is that nuts and seeds taste great and they're good for you. They contain protein, essential fats, dietary fibre and micronutrients essential for a healthy life. If that weren't enough, the fats in nuts and seeds are mostly unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which, unlike saturated fats, don't raise blood LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated fats have the additional benefit of raising high-density lipoprotein, the 'good cholesterol' in our blood. Nuts and seeds are rich in protein and dietary fibre, and also one of the best natural sources of anti-oxidant vitamin E, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and folic acid. So there's a huge amount of goodness in a tiny and tasty package.

The heart of the matter

We all know that dietary habits can influence our risk of developing heart disease. We can really help ourselves out just by choosing to eat the right kinds of food.

A number of nutritional studies have associated frequent nut consumption, especially almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and macadamias with a reduction in stroke risk, and possibly a reduction in heart disease.

Nuts provide a natural source of vitamin E, a powerful anti-oxidant vitamin that helps protect the body from free radicals, produced during metabolism, which can damage body cells. Nuts with a higher polyunsaturated fat content are richer in vitamin E, which is present to protect the fat from oxidising and becoming rancid. Nuts with a higher monounsaturated fat content contain less vitamin E as this fat is more stable so not as much vitamin E is needed.

Brazil nuts and peanuts are popular choices in the UK. Many people eat Brazil nuts for their selenium content, an important trace element essential for anti-oxidant enzyme activity in the body. Yet it’s a little known fact that not all Brazil nuts are a rich source of selenium. Brazil nuts only grow in two areas of the Amazon basin. Only one area has selenium-rich soil, so only the nuts growing in this area are selenium-rich - the others contain negligible selenium. A little known fact is whether your Brazil nuts are selenium-rich or not, these nuts are the food with the highest level of barium and radioactive radium in our diet, providing 1000 times more radium per serving than most other foods.

Calories not included

With 500-600 calories per 100g, nuts aren’t a low calorie snack option, but studies suggest that a handful of nuts between meals doesn’t usually cause weight gain. Despite their calorie content a small percentage of the calories within nuts can’t be released during digestion, due to the hard structure and complex fibre content, reducing slightly the measured calorie content of nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds, pistachio nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and pine nuts provide phytosterols that help to lower blood cholesterol levels.

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