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Wodraska: Moderation the key when eating nuts

Published September 9, 2013 9:24 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nuts are experiencing a resurgence in popularity as a food item thanks to several studies that show they have many benefits to health.

The latest was a study in Spain that found people 50 years old and older who ate nuts more than three times a week had reduced risks of cancer by 40 percent and cardiovascular disease by 55 percent compared to those who didn't eat nuts.

While that is all well and good, the finding that probably caught the attention of most is those who ate nuts had a lower body mass index and a smaller waist.

Combined with a generally healthier lifestyle than those who didn't eat nuts, nut eaters had a 39 percent lower mortality risk. Interestingly, those who ate walnuts had a 45 percent lower mortality risk.

Granted such studies aren't conclusive. It can be hard to decipher what happens first, do healthier people habitually snack on better food choices like nuts rather than processed foods like chips and is that why they are fit?

How much of the overall health improvement can be attributed to nuts alone?

While that could be debated, it's had to argue the nutritional value of nuts.

One reason they are so healthy is the presence of the amino acid l-arginine, which is extremely beneficial for the heart.

Nuts also contain high amounts of nutrients such as B vitamins, manganese and selenium.

So what does all this mean? Should you run to the nut aisle of your local grocery store and stock up?

Yes you should, in moderation and if your digestive system is healthy enough to digest them.

The good and bad of nuts is they pack a lot of nutrients in a small amount so you must watch your serving size. A usual serving size is about 1/4 of a cup, or a small handful of nuts. Be careful of mindless eating and downing a pound of nuts while you are sitting at your desk.

There are about 160 calories in a serving of almonds, so eat a pound and you are eating more than 2,600 calories.

Moreover, many people have compromised digestive systems and have a hard time digesting nuts because they contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which give nuts a greater chance of survival if, for instance, they pass through the digestive tract of an animal.

The acid blocks the uptake of key minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. Luckily, the acid and inhibitors are neutralized by simply soaking nuts for eight to 12 hours before eating them.

So you don't have to go through the soaking process all the time, just buy a large bulk quantity of nuts, soak them overnight then dry them gently in the oven or dehydrator and store.

Luckily, the popularity of soaked or sprouted nuts is growing, so if you don't want to bother doing it yourself, you can buy nuts that already have been prepared.

Even with soaking, some people with digestive issues such as gluten intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome still don't have the capabilities to digest nuts well. The best thing to do is experiment and see what works for you. So remember, nuts are good, just don't go too nutty with the portion sizes. —