Now for the good news. Nuts are nature's perfect snack - packed with protein, healthy fats and antioxidants. What I'm about to share with you are what nuts can do for your health and which ones offer the best benefits.
You know you need to eat your fruits and veggies - and that whole grains are good for you. But you might be missing out on another hugely beneficial food group: nuts. Nuts are the often forgotten super-foods of the plant world. Nuts have been linked to everything from heart health to cancer prevention, and they could even help you live longer. One study found that people who eat a handful of nuts a day were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause.
They're also the perfect snack: All nuts contain healthy fats, protein and fiber - the perfect combo for helping you feeling full. There's no prep work involved either. Just grab a handful and go.
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Not sure which ones to choose? Here's a list of the seven healthiest nuts...
Walnuts are one of the ultimate super-foods, with evidence showing that they play a role in improving heart health and protecting the brain. They may even help fight breast and prostate cancers. A 2011 analysis suggested that walnuts have higher quality antioxidants than any other nut, making them hugely powerful against inflammation (the cause of many diseases). Some research has shown that walnuts could help prevent Alzheimer's, and one study even found that walnuts help the body better deal with stress. Another bonus? Because of the way your body breaks down the nuts, you'll get about 20 percent fewer calories from walnuts than it says on the label.
A small serving of almonds offers lots of healthy fats and fiber, including the kind that act as prebiotics - feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut. The Institute of Food Research found that eating almonds can increase levels of microbes that improve your digestive health. Other research has found that the nuts, which are notoriously high in vitamin E and contain polyphenols, have an important antioxidant effect - even when eaten in small amounts. The combination of antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber is thought to promote heart health, lowering cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow.
When you eat pistachios, your heart will thank you. Not only are they filled with heart-healthy fats, but they've also been linked to healthy cholesterol levels and they contain resveratrol, the same anti-inflammatory that is found in red wine. Eating nuts in general has been linked to controlling type 2 diabetes, but pistachios (in particular) have been shown to help maintain healthy glucose levels and reduce the effects of stress on the heart in people who suffer from diabetes. And if you have trouble with portion control when it comes to nuts, pistachios are likely the best nut for you. They are lower in calories than most varieties and the process of taking the shell off will help slow you down as you eat.
Pecans are another leader among high-antioxidant foods. With vitamin E and ellagic acid, both anti-inflammatory nutrients, these nuts have plenty of health-boosting powers - including fighting some cancers. These antioxidants prevent lipid oxidation in the blood, which can reduce buildup in the arteries. All of those antioxidants can also benefit the skin, fighting free radical damage to help keep your complexion radiant.
5. Brazil nuts
Like walnuts, brazil nuts offer lots of omega-3s, which are super healthy for the heart. These fats, as well as the mineral zinc (which is found in brazil nuts) have been associated with healthy, clear skin. These nuts are also a very good source of selenium, which has been associated with fighting bladder, lung and prostate cancers. Like most nuts, the brazil nut is also heralded as a great food for weight loss. It has a rich, satisfying flavour and is very filling. Just don't overdo it, as these nuts are high in calories!
These legumes (that's right; they're not technically a nut!) have gotten a bad rap over the years, largely due to sugary peanut butters and allergies associated with them. But the truth is, as long as you aren't allergic, peanuts have a lot to offer. Eating peanuts can help triglyceride levels (which are associated with your cholesterol and overall heart health) and their monounsaturated fats are great for your heart. Research has linked eating peanuts to a lower risk for gallstones and protection against Alzheimer's disease. One study even found a link between peanut consumption and lower mortality rates (but the same connection did not exist for peanut butter).
These nuts have a rich and buttery flavor, but are actually lower in fat than most other nuts. The fat they do contain is the heart-healthy monounsaturated variety - plus they've got a good dose of magnesium, which is important for strong bones. Research has shown that eating cashews and other nuts might help decrease your risk of gallstones. They also contain lots of essential minerals, including selenium, copper and zinc.