Nuts did fall victim to the fat paranoia of the 1980s and1990s. Remember Nathan Pritikin and his diet? All nuts, except chestnuts were excluded if you wanted to follow his version of health. When his son Robert produced a “new” version of the Pritikin diet in 1990, nuts were permitted, with the exception of macadamias and coconut. But by then, the Pritikin Diet was forgotten. Pity, because Robert’s version was pretty sensible.
Nuts looking good
Now we are much more confident about our advice on food and fats, although the debate will continue for decades (eg at a conference recently it was claimed that there is no link between dairy fats and heart disease. Is that a double cream camembert I see?).
Certainly, we are pretty sure that nuts, particularly tree nuts and peanuts, are very good for your health. Yes, we are talking about unsalted nuts; and, you are right, peanuts are a legume and not a true nut, but I do include them because they have a very similar nutrient profile to tree nuts, like Brazil nuts and walnuts. Remember that there is no cholesterol in plant foods, therefore none in nuts.
There is now a good deal of research on nuts and there is mounting evidence that around 30g (1oz), about a small handful, each day could well be protecting you from conditions like heart disease and diabetes. One big European trial (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea - PREDIMED) has tracked 7400 folk aged 60-80 years for five years as they followed either 1) low fat control diet; 2) Mediterranean diet with 50 mL olive oil daily; or 3) Mediterranean diet with 30g nuts daily.
The diet was controlled to some extent, making sure that soft drinks (sodas), cakes and sweets were limited. All three groups received educational sessions and were assessed for compliance.
Waist, brain & blood glucose all improve
Those who closely followed either Mediterranean diet had half the risk of type diabetes when compared to those on the low fat diet. They also had better cognitive function and a lower rate of brain decline. The better the adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the greater improvement in abdominal obesity ie there was less dangerous fat around the middle, especially in the nut lovers. Interestingly, their waist circumference was lower, even though their total weight may not have changed, suggesting a healthier distribution of body fat. And it is your waist circumference, not the number on the scales, that has the greatest effect on your health.
An important message
This study is just another nail in the coffin of the extremist low fat diets. We have reached a time when the concept of the Pritikin Diet, or the very low-fat diet, is no longer in favour for personal health. Fat in itself is not a problem. The fat found in nuts, avocados, seeds, good quality chocolate and oils does not cause a long-term health problem. As expected, it all comes back to the quality of your eating.
What does it all mean?
Eat unsalted nuts regularly. Forget the fat content. They won’t make you fat. Chances are that nuts will help install another barrier to health problems. I have nuts on my breakfast cereal (oats + 2 brand cereals who need to hand over some free product before I name them), with dried fruit (cranberries, yum) and skim milk. It is too early to give a league table of nuts, so the smart thing is to have a mix of your favourite nuts. Help your body and help nuts make a comeback by enjoying some everyday, or whenever you can.
PLOSone August 2012; 7 (8) entire paper