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What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Nuts & Seeds?

What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Nuts & Seeds?

Christi Wheeler, M.S., R.D.

Heart-Healthy Fat

Nuts and seeds contain healthful mono- and  polyunsaturated fats. These fats are essential to health by managing  inflammation and maintaining the normal structure of every cell in our bodies.  Saturated and trans fats, found in meats, full-fat dairy, fried and processed  foods can be damaging to our bodies by triggering inflammation. Research shows  that diets high in these unhealthy fats can lead to a host of diseases. Choosing  healthy fats instead can lower cholesterol and decrease inflammation. A study  published by "British Medical Journal" in 1998 found that individuals who  consumed nuts five times a week had a 35% reduction in heart disease  risk.

Filling Fiber

Fiber helps to slow digestion, which helps you feel full  longer. This translates into eating less, which over time can lead to weight  loss. The role of fiber does not stop there. Fiber intake from fruits,  vegetables, whole grains and nuts helps to decrease cholesterol. There are  various mechanisms by which this occurs. First, fiber binds to bile acids, which  are needed to digest fat. This process not only decreases fat absorption, but  also leads to cholesterol being used to replace bile acids excreted when bound  to fiber. Secondly, the fermentation process of fiber that occurs in the  intestines causes a short-chain fatty acid called propionate to form. Propionate  acts in the liver to prevent the enzyme HMG CoA reductase from triggering  production of cholesterol. The "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"  published research that found an additional 25% reduction in cholesterol levels  after nut consumption that could not be explained from the composition of healthy fat alone.  Researchers speculated that fiber and mineral content in nuts were  responsible.

Plant Protein

A plant-based diet is currently being recommended by the  American Cancer Association for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  This diet includes some lean protein, such as poultry or fish, and is high in  fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. It limits red meats, processed  meats and refined foods. A study published by "Circulation" in 2008 that  followed over 72,000 women for 28 years found that those women who chose a  plant-based diet had a greater than 25% decrease in both heart disease and  cancer risk. An ounce of nuts provides 6 g of protein on  average.

Mighty Minerals

Nuts and seeds contain minerals such as magnesium, zinc,  calcium and phosphorus needed for bone development, immunity and energy  production. The Nurses' Health Study found that subjects who consumed the  highest amount of magnesium, about 350 mg per day, had significantly less  inflammation than those with the lowest intake. Inflammation is related to  nearly every disease and has direct links to heart disease and type II diabetes.  One ounce of sunflower seed kernels contain 100 mg of magnesium. Calcium is a  mineral needed for bone development, but it is also needed to send signals to  cells and produce energy. One ounce of almonds provides 75 mg of  calcium.

In a Nutshell

A handful of nuts, or about 1 oz.,  is a serving. Aim to  consume a variety of nuts and seeds, as they all contain different vitamins,  minerals and ratios of healthy fats. This will not only give your taste buds  some variety but also ensure that your body is getting adequate amounts of all  the different nutrients nuts have to offer. Opt for nuts or seeds in their most  natural state, without added oils or salt. So next time you crave something  crunchy, skip the potato chips and indulge that craving guilt-free by grabbing  some nuts or seeds.

  • "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition";  Plant-based Foods and Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease; Frank Hu; Sept  2003
  • "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Nuts  and their Bioactive Consitutents Effects on Serum Lipids and Other Factors that  Affect Disease Risk; Penny Kris-Etherton et al.; 1999
  • "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Dietary  Fiber Intake and Risk Factors for CVD in French Adults; Denis Lairon et al.;  2005
  • "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition;  Magnesium Intake and Plasma Concentration of Markers of Systemic Inflammation  and Endothelial Dysfunction in Women; Yiqing Song et al.; April 2007
  • "British Medical Journal"; Frequent Nut  Consmption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women: Prospective Cohort  Study; Frank Hu et al.; November 1998
  • "Circulation"; Dietary Patterns and Risk of of  Mortality From Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Causes in a Prospective  Cohort of Women; Christin Heidemann et al.; 2008