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We know now that nuts and seeds are really good for you. So much research has now shown that they're a great choice in everything from snacks to being used as part of recipes. One important study shows that nuts added to a Mediterranean Diet made a huge difference in developing metabolic syndrome (Arch Intern Med 2008: 168; 2449 - 2458). Do keep in mind that nuts are considered fats and are higher in calories. Even so, the types of fat are so much better for you since most are low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats.
In another study of folks already on a Mediterranean diet, those who added walnuts to their diet had an additional 4% decrease in total cholesterol. Eating 3 ounces of almonds per day for 9 weeks had a as much as a 10% drop in cholesterol. To make it even better nuts and seeds are chock full of antioxidants and Vitamin E as well as magnesium, copper, monounsaturated fat, plant sterols, protein and fiber.
While a lot of the studies are funded by industry groups like the California Walnut Commission, much of it is excellent research and the conclusions are pretty compelling. There may be some possibility that almonds are better than walnuts and walnuts are better than cashews or peanuts, but I don't believe that we have as much information about this as we need to. Eat what you like. Raw may be better than roasted and certainly eating your nuts unsalted is likely to be better for you.
One important thing for those with diverticulosis. It may be that you have been told to avoid eating nuts and seeds in the past to prevent a flare-up of diverticulitis. Thank goodness this has now been disproven. In fact, those who ate more than two servings of nuts a week had about the same or slightly lower risk of problems than those who ate less than one serving per month. (This includes popcorn, corn and the tiny seeds from strawberries and blueberries.)
But... if you like dry roasted salted peanuts, I'm fine with that. You're definitely better off eating salted nuts than eating Doritos or Wheat Thins. The nuts have a few more calories in an ounce (170 for the nuts and 140 for the Doritos) but they have about half the salt (85 mg for the nuts and 180 mg for the Doritos).
Peanut butter is a fantastic choice in your diet and I especially love the fresh ground that you can purchase in some stores. If you purchase peanut butter in jars, look for the ones with the fewest ingredients. I always keep some on hand for making sauces and such.
I do have a lot of nuts also and keep them sealed in ziplock bags. I keep at least the following on hand:
I buy the nuts at the health food store where I can purchase them raw and get only a handful or so at a time so that they don't go bad (they'll last about 2 months sealed in plastic).
Don't be afraid of nuts. Make seeds your friends. You'll be healthier for sure.
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
February 16, 2009