Six Nuts You May Not Have Heard of but Whose Nutrition &
Taste You'll Love
© 2013 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Nuts are quite possibly the "perfect" food: full of nutrition, satisfying and portable. Grabbing a small handful of nuts requires little effort on your part, yet their protein will keep you going strong, and their healthy monounsaturated fats are good for your heart.
In fact, in July 2003, the FDA approved the following health claim for nut package labels:
"Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of some nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Most of us are familiar with the traditional healthy nuts -- almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews -- because while there are thousands of nut varieties, only a handful are available commercially. Here are a few of the more unusual nut varieties that you may very much enjoy.
1. Brazil Nuts
These nuts have a tender texture and a mild flavor -- and are grown on a large tree in the Amazon jungle that can get up to 160 feet tall. Brazil nuts contain protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E and selenium. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that works to neutralize dangerous free radicals. A study at the University of Illinois even found that the high amounts of selenium in Brazil nuts may help to prevent breast cancer.
2. Black Walnuts
The rich smoky flavor of black walnuts is much stronger than that of typical English walnuts. Their trees are native to North America, and black walnuts were a staple food to Native Americans and the early settlers. They offer many of the same nutrients as English almonds, including omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to protect the heart, promote better cognitive function, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis.
Walnuts also contain the antioxidant compound ellagic acid, which is known to fight cancer and support the immune system. But that's not all -- in a study in the August 2003 issue of Phytochemistry, researchers identified 16 polyphenols in walnuts, including three new tannins, with antioxidant activity so powerful they described it as "remarkable."
Walnuts are incredibly healthy for the heart. A study in the April 2004 issue of Circulation found that when walnuts were substituted for about one-third of the calories supplied by olives and other monounsaturated fats in the Mediterranean diet:
Total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol were reduced
The elasticity of the arteries increased by 64 percent
Levels of vascular cell adhesion molecules, which play a major role in the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), were reduced
3. Hazelnuts (Filberts)
Hazelnuts have a strong flavor that lends itself well to cooking and baking, which is why these nuts are often found in cookies, candies and cakes. Nonetheless, they are an incredibly nutritious source of dietary fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and B vitamins. Hazelnuts also contain phytonutrients such as arginine, an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels, and may inhibit tumor growth and boost immunity.
4. Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are technically seedlings of pinecones, not nuts, but they have a mild, nut-like flavor and provide excellent nutrition. Pine nuts are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and they're full of vitamins A, C and D. Pine nuts also contain certain fatty acids that may initiate the release of an appetite-suppressing hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK).
5. Macadamia Nuts
Macadamias taste similar to hazelnuts, but with a richer, more buttery flavor. Though they're native to Australia, macadamias are grown commercially in Hawaii. These nuts are high in protein, fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and magnesium. And, a study done at Hawaii University found that people who had added macadamia nuts to their diets for just one month had total cholesterol levels of 191, compared to 201 for those eating the typical American diet. The largest change was found in the LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Chestnuts must be boiled or roasted before you eat them, and when you do this it brings out a sweet flavor, and their texture becomes similar to potatoes. Chestnuts are actually the lowest in fat of all nuts, and have a nutritional profile similar to brown rice. They contain as much vitamin C as lemons (by weight), lots of fiber and about one-third the calories of peanuts and cashews.
High Cholesterol? Why “Go Nuts”, to Increase Your HDL Levels
Healthy monounsaturated fats that are good for your heart:
Cholesterol, of course, is composed of two types: the good "HDL" (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and the bad "LDL" (low-density lipoprotein) variety.
Most Americans focus on reducing LDL cholesterol as a key part of their treatment regimen. However, a new study found that having too little good cholesterol is at least as damaging when it comes to heart disease as having too much of the bad kind, and it may even be more damaging.
"The public was first educated on total cholesterol, and then the shift was on LDL cholesterol and keeping that level down," said Dr. Christie Ballantyne, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. "HDL cholesterol is at least as important as LDL cholesterol and may even be more predictive of heart disease."
Increasing your HDL: Another benefit of exercise.
In fact, in people with heart disease, the most common cholesterol problem is too little HDL. That's because HDL cholesterol works to remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. "Even if their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are normal, people with reduced levels of HDL have an increased risk of early coronary artery disease," says Richard N. Fogoros, M.D.
When HDL levels are increased, a little goes a long way. It's estimated that for every 1 mg/dl increase in HDL cholesterol, there is a 2 percent to 4 percent decrease in your risk of coronary heart disease.
If your HDL levels are lacking, here are some key ways to boost them.
Eat more monounsaturated fats: Increasing foods that contain these healthy fats -- nuts, olive oil, avocados, etc. -- can raise your HDL levels without harming your total cholesterol.
Eat soluble fiber: Fiber can increase your HDL cholesterol while decreasing the LDL. It's found in “nuts”, fruits like apples, oranges, pears, peaches, berries and grapes, seeds and oat bran, dried beans, oatmeal, barley, rye and vegetables. At least two servings a day is ideal.
Avoid too many processed carbs: Too many refined carbs from white sugar, flour, potatoes, etc. causes your blood sugar to rise. This has been linked to decreases in HDL levels.
Exercise: Aerobic exercise, the kind that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time (say 20 or 30 minutes), can increase your HDL if done regularly. Examples include jogging, biking, fast walking, aerobics, etc.
Doughnuts, along with other foods that contain trans fats, are some of the worst foods you could eat: they lower your good cholesterol and increase the bad.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase your LDL cholesterol levels while reducing your HDL. Losing weight can help to increase HDL.
Don't eat trans fats: Trans fats are an unhealthy type of fat found in margarine, shortening, fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers. Anything that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil also contains them.
These artery-clogging fats are known to increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL. Avoiding foods that contain them (you have to be diligent in reading labels to do so, as many processed products contain them) can help to raise your HDL levels significantly.
Don't eliminate all fat from your diet: Just like too much fat in your diet can cause problems, too little fat in your diet can lead to a deficiency of essential fatty acids. It has also been linked to significant reductions in HDL cholesterol. For best results, eat a variety of healthy fats, like monounsaturated fats, and avoid the bad ones, like trans fats.
Get lots of omega-3: This essential fatty acid, found in walnuts, fish, fish oil, and flaxseed has been found to increase HDL cholesterol.
The World's Healthiest Foods
About.com: Increasing the Good Cholesterol
Raise HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Medicine Net: HDL Cholesterol