NUTS: DESPITE THE NAME, THEY MAY BE A PANACEA

Eating almonds on a regular basis may help boost levels of the good (HDL) cholesterol while simultaneously improving the way it removes cholesterol from the body. According to researchers, who, in a recent study, compared the levels and function of high–density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) in people who ate almonds every day, to comparable levels of the same group of people when they ate a muffin instead. The researchers found that while participants were on the almond diet, their HDL levels and functionality improved. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, builds on previous research on the effects of almonds on cholesterol–lowering diets. The researchers wanted to see if almonds could not just increase the HDL levels but also improve the function of this component, which works by gathering cholesterol from tissues, like the arteries, and helping to transport it out of the body.
HDL is very small when it gets released into circulation, and acts like a garbage bag that slowly gets bigger and more spherical as it gathers cholesterol from cells and tissues before depositing them in the liver to be broken down.
Depending on how much cholesterol it has collected, HDL cholesterol is categorized into various subpopulations, which range from the very small to the larger, more mature forms. The researchers hoped that eating almonds would result in more larger particles, which would signal improved HDL function.
In a controlled–feeding study, 48 men and women with elevated LDL cholesterol participated in two six–week diet periods. In both, their diets were identical except for the daily snack. On the almond diet, participants received 43 grams — about a handful — of almonds a day. During the control period, they received a banana muffin instead. The researchers found that, compared to the control diet, the almond diet increased HDL particles to their largest size and most mature stage — by 19 percent. They were able to show that there were more larger particles in response to consuming the almonds compared to not consuming almonds, which would translate to the smaller particles doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re going to tissues and pulling out cholesterol, getting bigger, and taking that cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body. An increase in this particular HDL subpopulation is meaningful, because the particles have been shown to decrease overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
If people incorporate almonds into their diet, they should expect multiple benefits, including ones that can improve heart health. Obviously, they’re not a cure–all, but when eaten in moderation – and especially when eaten instead of a food of lower nutritional value – they’re a great addition to an already healthy diet. Other nuts may provide similar benefits, but they have not been studied in this fashion. Nevertheless, they may provide other benefits as well, such as in cancer prevention, as we present below.

A recent study showed that nut and peanut butter consumption can reduce the risk of esophageal and gastric cancer. Previous studies had suggested that nut consumption has been associated with decreased risk of colorectal, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers. Polyphenols, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in nuts may confer this observed protective effect. Up to now, no prospective study has evaluated the effect of nut consumption on esophageal and gastric cancers. The objective was to evaluate the associations between nut and peanut butter consumption and the risk of esophageal and gastric cancers and their different subtypes. The most recent study used data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which enrolled 566,407 persons who were 50–71 years old at baseline (1995–1996). The median follow-up time was 15.5 years. Intakes of nuts and peanut butter were assessed through the use of a validated food-frequency questionnaire. Statistical models estimated risks for esophageal and gastric cancers. Compared with those who did not consume nuts or peanut butter [lowest category of consumption], participants in the highest category of nut consumption had a lower risk of developing the most common type of stomach cancer  The same association was also seen for peanut butter consumption.

This information is added to what we already know about nuts in general. Almost all nuts provide good sources of caloric energy, primarily from unsaturated fats (oils), they are useful also for lowering cholesterol. Moreover, the essential amino acids contained in nuts are vital for constructing protein, i.e., the building blocks for our muscles and other tissues. Although each type of nut does not supply, in itself, a complete source of these amino acids, consuming a variety of nuts will provide a complete complement of the various necessary (essential) components. Other nutritional elements provided by nuts include folic acid, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Especially noteworthy is their uniformly low sodium content, a highly desirable feature (provided that no salt is added). They also contain polyphenols, bioactive constituents that seem to be beneficial to heart health that extends beyond other dietary constituents.

During the past 20 years, mounting evidence indicates that consuming all nuts (including peanuts and peanut butter) at least twice weekly provides substantial protection from cardiovascular disease and overall death rates as compared to those consuming them only rarely or not at all. These desirable results seem to share the stage with almonds, as noted above, primarily through the rearranging of cholesterol components, and despite a substantial caloric content, nuts have less tendency to promote obesity, probably because of their prominent satiating effect. For unknown reasons, nuts also appear to prevent diabetes, another contributor to cardiovascular disease. Research studies have also indicated that, if the “Mediterranean” diet, which, in itself is healthy, is supplemented by extra mixed nuts (one ounce daily) and extra virgin olive oil (one quart total per week), substantial additional reductions of cardiovascular disease and stroke can be accomplished.

The bottom line? Forget the junk food and opt for any kind of nuts, whether with meals or as free-standing snacks!

 

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NUTS AND PLANT SEEDS: HEALTH EFFECTS AS GOOD AS MEDICINE?



                                       NUTS

     This category includes nuts from trees, including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, pecans, macadamias, and Brazil nuts. Although not technically a “tree nut”, peanuts possess similar traits and are, therefore, including in this category.

    Most of these nuts provide good sources of caloric energy, primarily from unsaturated fats (oils), useful also for lowering cholesterol.  Moreover, the essential amino acids contained in nuts are vital for constructing protein, i.e., the building blocks for our muscles and other tissues. Although each type of nut does not supply, in itself, a complete source of these amino acids, consuming a variety of nuts will provide a complete complement of the various necessary (essential) components. Other nutritional elements provided by nuts include folic acid, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Especially noteworthy is their uniformly low sodium content, a highly desirable feature (provided that no salt is added). They also contain polyphenols, bioactive constituents that seem to be beneficial to heart health that extends beyond one’s other dietary efforts.

     During the past 20 years, mounting evidence indicates that consuming these nuts (including peanuts and peanut butter) at least twice weekly provides substantial protection from cardiovascular disease and overall death rates as compared to those consuming them only rarely or not at all#.  These desirable results seem to be obtained primarily through the lowering of unfavorable cholesterol components, and despite a substantial caloric content, nuts do not seem to promote obesity, probably because of their prominent satiating effect. For unknown reasons, nuts also appear to prevent diabetes, another contributor to cardiovascular disease.  Research studies have also indicated that, if  the” Mediterranean” diet, which, in itself is healthy, if supplemented by extra mixed nuts (one ounce daily) and extra virgin olive oil (one quart total per week), substantial additional reductions of cardiovascular disease and stroke can be accomplished.

                                       SEEDS

    Edible seeds that contribute to human nutrition include grains (e.g. wheat, corn, rice, barley, millet and oats), legumes (e.g. soybeans), cocoa and coffee beans.  Some grains, however, are less beneficial, and these include white rice, white bread, pasta, noodles, and refined grain products with added sugar, fat, and sodium (e.g.  biscuits, pastries and cakes). Cocoa beans are the seeds of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao, from which chocolate is derived.

    Whole grains comprise germ, bran, and endosperm. Refining them reduces their nutritional quality by removing beneficial constituents that include germ and bran along with fiber, vitamins minerals, phenolic compounds and phytochemicals. Large studies have demonstrated a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease for those individuals consuming an average of 3-5 servings per day compared with those who rarely or never consumed whole grains. This group also had a 26% lower risk for the development of diabetes. In comparison to germ, bran seemed to be more potent in this regard.

    Cocoa and chocolate require special comment. All research clearly confirms the value of chocolate in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, probably through improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels as well as reduced development of diabetes. Most studies point to the value of dark chocolate (as opposed to white or milk  chocolate) being the most beneficial, but the effect of milk chocolate alone cannot be clearly established since many studies do not separate the two types for individual analysis.

    The effects of coffee on health are less certain. This product contains little of nutritional value. Although some data suggest that coffee consumption is associated with a slightly lower mortality risk, one can safely conclude that at least coffee appears to do no harm.

     Seeds, nuts and chocolate possess high fat content, but of the polyunsaturated varieties that decrease cholesterol levels, metabolism of sugar (reducing diabetic tendency) and cardiovascular risk. Whole grains are rich in insoluble fiber (bran), a beneficial nonabsobable nutrient that, for unclear reasons, is also associated with reduced diabetes and cardiovascular risk   

                                    PULSES

    “Pulses” are the seeds of plants contained within pods, and they include lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and a variety of beans that include pinto, kidney, navy, and fava beans.

    Scientific studies regularly indicate that consumption of these food sources reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease. One study demonstrated that their consumption four times weekly was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease in comparison with those who consumed them less than once weekly. Similar results are found when beans are substituted for white rice.

     The beneficial effects of pulses seem to result primarily from their favorable effects on cholesterol components and enhancement of sugar metabolism that improves prevention and control of diabetes. 

               CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    In general, one should attempt to substitute whole grains and legumes for refined grains in all diets. Moderate consumption of cocoa products can be incorporated. Coffee can be consumed with possible benefit, or at least with no added risks. Separating the effects of different components of seeds and nuts is not possible, and therefore, dietary recommendations should include a wide array of these foods as a major part of a plant-based diet. These modifications should be included with other components of a healthy diet that are well known, such as avoidance of red meat, reduction of salt intake, limitation of caloric intake, and regular inclusion of breakfast.   



# Ros E. and Hu FB. Consumption of plant seeds and cardiovascular health. Epidemiological and clinical trial evidence. Circulation 2013;128:553-565.

Bao Y. et al. Association of nut consumption with total and cause-specific mortality. N. England J. Med. 2013;369:2001.

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