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The scoop on nuts

Emma Stirling

Emma Stirling APD

Nuts have made a come-back in recent years with compelling research from around the world showing that regular nibblers may dramatically boost their heart health and manage their weight and BGLs. Here’s the scoop.

Nut-rient know how Tree nuts – almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts – are a particularly nutrient dense food. They are packed with protein, healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats, fibre, plant sterols and a range of vitamins and minerals including folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper and vitamin E. In fact, the vitamin E content may explain the finding from a Harvard University School of Public Health study, which found that increased nut consumption (including natural peanut butter) may improve the body’s ability to balance glucose and insulin.

Mixed nuts

GI nuts Most tree nuts contain very little carbohydrate, so most do not have a GI value. Here are the figures we have:

  • Pecans: – GI10 – ¼ cup (50g) contains 3g carbohydrate
  • Cashews: GI22 – ¼ cup or 50g contains 13g carbohydrate
  • Peanuts (GI23) are actually a ground nut and are technically a legume – ¼ cup (50g) of dry roasted peanuts will provide 5g carbohydrate.

Nuts for research The health story just keeps getting better for tree nuts since two major population research publications, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Physicians’ Health Study, found a relationship between nut consumption and decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Nuts have since been associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, shown to help people with existing diabetes manage their BGLs, and give you a weight loss edge (but more of that later).

What about allergy? It’s important to remember that there are also a growing number of children and adults with severe allergic reactions to peanuts and tree nuts including life threatening anaphylaxis. Many schools here in Australia are now nut free zones and that includes products like muesli bars or cookies with nuts as an ingredient. It’s a great idea to ask if any children visiting your home have special dietary needs.

Boost your intake Aim to be a regular nut nibbler, and mix up your unsalted nuts for maximum protection. It’s OK to enjoy a portion controlled, small handful (30–50g) providing about 10g fat a day. Don’t just go nuts for snacks, use them in your cooking. Why not:

  • Sprinkle slivered nuts in your stir-fries, salads and pastas
  • Make a topping or crust for fish with crushed nuts, breadcrumbs and fragrant herbs
  • Top fruit salad and yogurt with a crushed nut mix
  • Grind up a dukkah mix of Brazil nuts, coriander seeds, cumin and seasoning and enjoy with bread dipped in a little extra virgin olive oil or on lamb cutlets
  • Puree different nuts for an alternative spread to peanut butter
  • Shake some nuts into your storage container of breakfast cereal or whip up our Bircher Muesli with mixed nuts (recipe follows).

What about weight loss? Jump on over to The Scoop on Nutrition and discover how to enjoy almonds for a weight loss edge. Although it’s been around for centuries, it came as news to this dietitian.

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites.