The bowl of Christ­mas snacks on the cof­fee ta­ble could give your health a real boost over the fes­tive pe­riod and be­yond

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by kate lan­gr­ish

The bowl of Christ­mas snacks on the cof­fee ta­ble could give your health a real boost over the fes­tive pe­riod and be­yond

TRA­DI­TION DIC­TATES that we all have a bowl of nuts on the fes­tive ta­ble – in their shells and com­plete with the nutcracker that’s dusted off for the oc­ca­sion. In fact, it’s prob­a­bly the only time of year many of us eat a large quan­tity of them. Un­like the box of Qual­ity Street that’s most likely sit­ting there, too, this is one eat­ing cus­tom we would do well to con­tinue through­out the year. In­deed, ex­perts are now rec­om­mend­ing that we in­cor­po­rate more nuts in our diet, as re­search shows they can help to boost health in a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ways, from re­duc­ing choles­terol and sta­bil­is­ing blood sugar to pro­mot­ing bone health and re­duc­ing the risk of cer­tain can­cers.

“Most of us need to eat more nuts, as the av­er­age per­son doesn’t come close to the rec­om­mended amount of 40g a day,” says di­eti­tian Mau­reen Ter­nus from The In­ter­na­tional Tree Nut Coun­cil Nu­tri­tion Re­search & Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion. “Nu­mer­ous stud­ies on both in­di­vid­ual and mixed nuts have shown that they may play an im­por­tant role in re­duc­ing the risk of many chronic dis­eases.”


In re­cent years, nuts have got a bad press as a ‘fatty’ food, but ex­perts are now putting them firmly back into the healthy-snack camp. As nu­tri­tion sci­en­tist Sarah Coe from the Bri­tish Nu­tri­tion Foun­da­tion ex­plains: “Many peo­ple think of nuts as a ‘high-fat, high-calo­rie’ food, but the fats tend to be un­sat­u­rated, the type that is thought to be ben­e­fi­cial for our well­be­ing, and heart health in par­tic­u­lar.”

A num­ber of stud­ies have found that reg­u­lar con­sump­tion – in­clud­ing the Christ­mas favourites wal­nuts, hazel­nuts, al­monds and pis­ta­chios – re­duces the risk of heart dis­ease, with an anal­y­sis of sev­eral stud­ies in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion find­ing that nut-eaters had a 37 per cent re­duced risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease. It’s thought that nuts help to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion in the body, which is a key process in the de­vel­op­ment of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, and also type 2 di­a­betes.

Re­gard­less of the type, fat is still high in calo­ries, but the in­ter­est­ing thing about nuts is that eat­ing them as a snack (within rea­son, of course) does not seem to con­trib­ute to weight gain. In a study pub­lished in Nu­tri­tion Jour­nal, eat­ing them reg­u­larly was associated with a lower body mass in­dex – the nut eaters were also 25 per cent less likely to be obese and 21 per cent less likely to have an el­e­vated waist cir­cum­fer­ence. It’s be­lieved this is be­cause nuts help to make peo­ple feel full and may even sup­press ap­petite. In ad­di­tion, they may also help to in­crease in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity, and so bal­ance blood sugar lev­els.

“Nuts con­tain healthy fats, fi­bre and pro­tein – all of which help to in­crease sati­ety. Most re­search on nuts has shown – in­ad­ver­tently since this was not the pri­mary out­come – that peo­ple who con­sume nuts ac­tu­ally main­tain or of­ten lose weight com­pared to those who don’t eat them,” ex­plains Mau­reen Ter­nus.

Crack­ing away this Christ­mas may even help you live longer. One 30-year study in The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine dis­cov­ered that peo­ple who ate a small hand­ful of nuts ev­ery day were 20 per cent less likely to die from a num­ber of chronic dis­eases such as cancer and heart dis­ease, com­pared to those who avoided nuts – and even those who ate them only oc­ca­sion­ally (less than once a week) had a seven per cent re­duc­tion in the like­li­hood of dy­ing from these con­di­tions dur­ing the pe­riod of the study. Lead re­searcher Dr Charles Fuchs, from the Dana-far­ber Cancer In­sti­tute and Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal, said: “The most ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit was a re­duc­tion of 29 per cent in deaths from heart dis­ease, but we also saw a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion – 11 per cent – in the risk of dy­ing from cancer.”


They may look at their loveli­est with their glossy brown or dim­pled shells, but is eat­ing nuts from their shells the best way? Well, ar­guably, yes, as it tends to mean they are at their fresh­est. But don’t worry if a few are still hang­ing around post-christ­mas, or if you would rather buy them ready-shelled, roasted or even as a nut but­ter. “The bot­tom line is that it doesn’t mat­ter which way you eat nuts, as long as they’re not coated in sugar – sorry,

that in­cludes sug­ared al­monds. Nuts are so high in fat to be­gin with (with good un­sat­u­rated fatty acids), oil roast­ing doesn’t re­ally make a dif­fer­ence, and the nu­tri­ent con­tent of raw ver­sus roasted is neg­li­gi­ble,” ex­plains Mau­reen Ter­nus.

But do watch out for salt. “Most oil-roasted nuts tend to have had salt added, so it’s best to go for un­salted va­ri­eties where pos­si­ble,” warns Sarah Coe. For the same rea­son, opt for a good-qual­ity nut but­ter that doesn’t have lots of salt and sugar added, and look for unsweet­ened nut milks. And if you were tempted by the fam­ily-sized bag in the su­per­mar­ket, store the rest. They will stay fresh in the freezer for a year and in the fridge or a cool cup­board for six months.

So should you choose the bag of wal­nuts or bag of hazel­nuts? “As a di­eti­tian I get asked all the time, ‘What is the best nut?’ Mau­reen says. “The fact is that all are healthy and each one has its own spe­cial at­tribute. For ex­am­ple, wal­nuts are the one with the high­est lev­els of omega-3 fatty acids; al­monds and hazel­nuts are rich in vi­ta­min E; one Brazil nut gen­er­ally gives you all the se­le­nium you need each day; pis­ta­chios are rich in beta-sitos­terol, which has been shown to be help­ful in re­duc­ing the risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. So the best thing over­all is to eat a va­ri­ety of them to re­ally get the ad­van­tages that each one offers.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.