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In a nutshell, here are some suggestions for a healthy diet

Sandhya Govind

Sandhya Govind

Auckland, February 28, 2023

Nuts are nutrient-rich foods with unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fibre, healthy minerals (Wikimedia Commons)

The traditional Mediterranean diet, whose main components are fruit and vegetables, oily fish, nuts and wholegrain cereals, along with modest amounts of meat and low-fat dairy, has been proven to be one of the healthiest diets to keep the heart healthy and prevent cardiovascular disease.

Nuts and seeds play a very important role in the Mediterranean diet.

The most commonly used nuts in the Mediterranean diet are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts and pistachios.

Nuts are nutrient-rich foods containing unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fibre, healthy minerals, tocopherols (a form of Vitamin E), phytosterols (natural plant compounds that help control blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease) and polyphenols (natural plant compounds that contain anti-oxidant and  anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent coronary heart disease)

This article looks at almonds and walnuts, nuts that have traditionally been an integral part of the Mediterranean diet and the health benefits to be gained by incorporating them into our daily diet.

Almonds: Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fat, fibre, α-tocopherol (Vitamin E), folate, minerals such as magnesium, copper,  calcium, and phosphorus and phytonutrients such as phytosterols and polyphenols.

One of the most beneficial effects of almond consumption is that almonds are able to lower the levels of both total and harmful LDL cholesterol. This is because they contain phytosterols.

Phytosterols are natural plant compounds that are structurally very similar to cholesterol in the human body. Therefore, when they enter the digestive tract, they compete with regular cholesterol to be absorbed into the intestines, thereby hindering the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. This helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

One serving of about 23 almonds (30 g) contains approximately 59 mg of phytosterols. It has been shown that consuming two-three grams of phytosterols a day may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by around 8%-10%.

Monounsaturated Fats

The fat content of almonds is predominantly made up of monounsaturated fats (MUFA) (66% of total fat), and a low proportion of saturated fat (7% of total fat). This fat composition is beneficial, as MUFAs are healthy fats that help reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol. This, along with the low content of saturated fat significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and also helps control body weight.

It has also been shown that higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids in the blood can help with improved cognition and also have a protective effect on certain types of brain cells.

Almonds are a protein-rich food with 30g of almonds containing around 6g of protein, which is approximately the same amount of protein contained in 1 boiled egg.

Almonds also contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps the body build protein. L-arginine has been shown to help prevent the development and progression of atherosclerosis as well as other cardiovascular conditions.

Almonds are also a good source of natural Vitamin E. A 30g serving of almonds contains 8.4 mg of Vitamin E, which is about 70% of the daily requirements for adults.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that also helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and also strengthens the immune system.

Almonds are rich in dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system – a 30g serve provides around 10% of the daily requirements for adults. Dietary fibre helps normalise bowel movements and maintain bowel health by adding bulk to and softening the stool. Dietary fibre also helps lower cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar levels under control.

Walnuts: Walnuts have been cultivated for over 2,500 years and are believed to be the oldest tree food known to man.

Walnuts have a high content of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs), the most important being alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),  a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. Walnut is the whole food with the highest Alpha-linolenic acid content of all edible plants. Studies show that Alpha-linolenic acid has excellent anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective properties and helps with the maintenance of normal heart rhythm and pumping as well as the prevention of atherosclerosis.

Walnuts are one of the main food sources of phytomelatonin, a form of melatonin available in certain plants. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain that helps with regulating the body’s circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and promotes good sleep. Melatonin also has neuroprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity and anticancer properties.

Walnuts are an excellent source of several minerals, including potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance inside the cells, helps muscles to contract and plays a role in maintaining optimal blood pressure levels; magnesium, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the muscles and nerves, as well as the regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure levels; calcium, which is necessary for the body to build and maintain strong bones as well as to help the heart, muscles and nerves function properly; copper, which helps maintain bone, nerve, and immune system function; phosphorus, which plays an important role in the formation of bones and teeth; and manganese, which is necessary for normal brain and nerve function.

Walnuts are also a good source of folic acid (vitamin B9), which is essential for healthy growth and functioning of cells Folic acid is especially important during early pregnancy as a deficiency during this phase may cause birth defects of the brain and spine.

Besides this walnuts also contain a good amount of dietary fibre and are also rich in phytosterols and Vitamin E, the benefits of which have been discussed earlier in the article.

Regular intake of nuts is beneficial but it is important not to overdo it. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends a daily serving of 30g of nuts which is approximately 23 almonds or 10 walnuts or 15 cashews or 20 hazelnuts or 30 pistachios

It is important to always consult with a health care professional before making any drastic changes to your diet, taking new supplements or trying any new eating plan, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are already on medication or supplements, or are suffering from any medical condition. This is to make sure that the plan is appropriate for your specific condition and to also help you modify the diet where necessary. The information provided in this article is not to be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor, especially if you have any concerns regarding your health.

Sandhya Govind is a qualified and trained Naturopath and runs ‘Sandhya’s Naturopathy Clinic,’ an integrated Natural Medicine facility, which helps people rediscover optimal health, radiance and vitality naturally. Email: sandhyanaturopathy@gmail.com; The above article should be read for general information purposes only and not taken as individual advice. Please always consult your GP or other authorised persons or agencies for personal advice. Indian Newslink and Sandhya Govind absolve themselves of all responsibility or liability in this connection.

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