Nuts!

19 Aug

I have been working in clinical nutrition for a long time.  Some days I feel like I have seen it all.  And other days I see things that make me scratch my head, things that seem to defy the odds, wonders of nature.  Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine” believed in increased activity and healthy food as the first line of defense against disease.  I believe that too.  Food heals.  Healthy balanced diets lead to better health.   There is a Chinese proverb that can be paraphrased like this “If you don’t make time for good food, you must make time for the physician”.  One food that I have seen work wonders in some folks is nuts.

Nuts come in many forms.  They are a good source of protein and oils but can make us all a little…shall we say…gassy.  None of us want to admit it, but its true.  Sometimes a little helping of nuts is followed by a little bout of the farts.  No matter what form nuts come in, they can produce that unattractive side effect.  But why?

Peanuts are actually from the legume family.  Think dried beans.  We all know that beans, the “magical fruit”, can be gas producing.  Nuts are also high in fiber.  As we all know, fiber makes us gassy too.  Fiber is not digested, instead benefitting our body by dragging junk out with it when it goes.   All while producing that lovely flatulence.  But don’t let that deter you from enjoying nuts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this package label “qualified” health claim for nuts in 2003:

“Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Nuts are a great part of a balanced diet.  The most healthful way to enjoy nuts, in my opinion, is to alternate them.  What does that mean?  It means enjoy walnuts on Monday, peanuts on Tuesday, almonds on Wednesday, and so on.  While peanuts are lumped in with legumes, other nuts are actually a plant fruit and in the nut and seed category of the USDA Food Pyramid.  Nuts are healthy, transportable, they are versatile, and widely available.  But how much is too much?

A serving size for nuts, some professional dietitians like to say, is about a handful.  That translates to roughly 1/3 of a cup.  I have to really hold myself back with this serving size, because I can sure put away more nuts than that in one sitting!  But I always try to be mindful of appropriate serving sizes to get the most healthful benefit from foods.  Nuts can be eaten at any time of the day.  Walnuts are yummy sprinkled onto cereal, cashews are delish when added to teriyaki chicken and broccoli, and a “handful” of peanuts is always a good crunchy treat any time of the day!

Now back to my original point.  Working in the field of nutrition and with so many nutrition professionals sparks many debates about food.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  But I swear, I think some people can live forever on nuts.  I have seen this food offer so many benefits to some folks, and it leaves me wondering about them.  I have seen people who have more than a handful of nuts a day, far exceeding a good serving size, and have low cholesterol and normal lab work.  Even folks whose diets aren’t quite balanced or deficient in other areas seem to defy the odds and stay healthier than a nutritional professional would expect with a regular dose of nuts.  So I say deal with a little bout of the gassies and have a handful any time of the day!

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