Q&A: How do nuts fit into a healthy diet?

Question: How do nuts fit into a healthy diet?

Answer: Nuts are a great food to include in a healthy diet. They are a great snack, and are packed full of nutrients. Nuts are an excellent source of mono unsaturated oils which are important for heart health. They are a good source of the essential polyunsaturated omega 3 and omega 6 oils. I don’t have enough space in this article to let you know all the benefits of these oils to your health, so will save that for another post.  Nuts also contain a range of important micronutrients. The thing to keep in mind though, is that you don’t need to eat many nut to add a lot of kilojoules to your daily intake, so serving size is very important. All fats contain 37kJ per gram (even the healthy ones) compared to carbohydrates at 16kJ per gram and protein at 17kJ per gram. That’s over twice the energy content of carbs and protein.

Just like all the food groups, serving size important. In the Australian Dietary guidelines, nuts are part of the Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, seeds and legumes food group. The recommended serving size for nuts is 30g. You have to keep in mind that women only need 2 ½ serves and men only 3 serves from this group each day. Having to many nuts as a snack will mean you need to reduce the quantity of other foods in this group. This could mean that you would need to reduce the serves of lean meat, chicken, fish or other protein foods in your main meals. For this reason, I would suggest a ½ serve for snacks.

Compared to other packaged snacks nuts are relatively un processed. In most cases the only processing is roasting. Try to stick to un salted!  You’ve probably heard of the trend of eating activated almonds. This appears to be based more on opinions than science! But if you like the taste of activated almonds then why not. They still have all the same nutrients.
Figure 1, gives you % RDI for some of the micronutrients found in a few of the more common nuts we snack on (including peanuts which are actually a legume). You can see that for a relatively small serve they can contribute a lot of nutrition to your day. 

Figure 1:
Figure 2, shows why you have to make sure not to overdo it with nuts! For a small serve they contain a lot of energy. 
Figure 2:
Even though nuts are a great food, for people with nut allergies they can be very dangerous. If you ever have some sort of reaction to nuts, or to any other foods for that matter, don’t self-diagnose, go and talk to your GP about it straight away!

The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a great resource for anyone who is interested in maintaining a healthy diet. The main message is to eat a variety of fresh produce in the right amounts and include at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Do this and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of having a long and healthy life. For most people nutrition is pretty simple really, don’t fall into the trap of following the latest fad! Keep it simple!!

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