Most studies show that a handful of nuts a day can have significant health benefits. [Photo: Bigstock]

Nuts! How much is enough?

9 July, 2015

Are you nuts about nuts? If so you are not alone.

Because nuts can be high in fats many people restrict their intake of them. But as the role of antioxidants and healthy fats is now better understood, the role of nuts in our diet has been shown to be crucial.

Like all plant foods, nuts are a good source of antioxidants and a range of vitamins and minerals. They also have high levels of the healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) and low levels of the unhealthy fats (saturated fats).

What you need to know

» Nuts are full of healthy fats and antioxidants which can help prevent disease as part of a healthy diet.

» Nut consumption has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, better fertility and a lower risk of certain cancers.

» Most guidelines recommend eating about 30g or 1 oz of nuts per day.

Nuts are also a good source of fibre and have a low Glycaemic Index (GI) which means they will help keep you fuller for longer.

Nuts contain around 10 to 20% protein, a similar amount found in eggs. They sit alongside meat and eggs and share similar nutrient profiles. So, nuts can be a good source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.

Reducing health risks

A wealth of studies show real positive benefits from eating nuts. Spanish and Italian researchers, for instance, found that eating a handful of nuts every day can help curb hunger, and even help reduce fat deposits in the abdomen. In particular snacking on almonds in the morning has been shown to curb appetite later in the day.

There’s evidence that eating nuts regularly can lower hypertension and cholesterol and because of this reduce the risk of heart disease.

Eating walnuts has been shown to help boost men’s fertility as well as lower the risk of diabetes.

Most recently research has shown a link between tree nut and peanut consumption and lower mortality rates from a whole range of diseases.

Even newer research suggests that nut consumption may have a role to play in preventing certain types of cancer.

US researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 36 observational studies (which included 30,708 patients) on the disease-preventive powers of nut consumption to create a comprehensive analysis.

What they found was  that regular nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of  colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer, but not other types of cancer. In this review nut consumption did not appear to reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.

Getting the balance right

It can be hard to negotiate your way through the minefield of grams and ounces which various studies suggest is healthy. The Dieticians Association of Australia, however, has made what we think are some sensible ‘real world’ recommendations.

First of all, forget all the salts, flavourings and coatings which nut snacks are dressed up in these days. Raw and unsalted nuts are the best choices. Salted nuts can be high in sodium (salt), and nuts that are commercially roasted can be high in added fats, cancelling out the positive benefits of including nuts in your diet.

Raw nuts are delicious and tasty on their own, but if you want to try something different, why not dry roast your nuts at home with a light dusting of turmeric or a sprinkling of rosemary?

A little is enough

Because nuts are naturally high in healthy fats, they will add to your energy intake. So, for good health you should eat nuts in moderation. This means about one serving of nuts per day, which is what is usually used in studies of the healthy properties of nuts, as part of a daily diet.

The Dieticians Association of Australia, has made what we think are some sensible recommendations about what this looks like in terms of daily intake.

A serving of nuts is about 1/3 of a cup or 30g, which is equal to:

  • 20 almonds
  • 10 Brazil nuts
  • 15 cashews
  • 4 chestnuts
  • 20 hazelnuts
  • 15 macadamias
  • 15 pecans
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 60 pistachios in shells for 30g of kernels
  • 10 whole walnuts or 20 walnut halves
  • A small handful of mixed nuts

You can also include more nuts by using your daily serving in the following ways:

  • Sprinkling chopped nuts onto your stir fry
  • Sprinkling chopped nuts onto your cereal
  • Enjoying a slice of fruit bread with a thin spread of peanut butter or other nut butter as a snack
  • Having a mix of raw nuts as a snack instead of other unhealthy options like chips or chocolate
  • Adding some nuts to a salad

You could also try making this delicious Nourishing Nut and Seed Loaf.