// Go Nuts for Healthy Eating

by Lisa Yates

When it comes to the topic of food and health, there are lots of myths out there. As a fitness professional, your advice on food and diet will frequently be sought by your clients in their efforts towards living a healthier lifestyle. But do you know how to answer their questions?

When it comes to nuts and health, what do you know, and how do you advise your clients? In 2008, the Nuts for Life initiative of the Australian Tree Nut Industry and Horticulture Australia commissioned some consumer research to identify some common myths about nuts and how they fit into a healthy diet. Here’s what they found.

Myth 1: Nuts are high in fat and should be avoided

The truth: Typically, tree nuts (almond, Brazil nut, cashew, chestnut, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pine nut, pistachio and walnut) contain between 50 and 74 per cent fat, with the majority being the healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like those in olive oil, avocados and fish. These fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels(1, 2). Like grains, vegetables, fruit, olive oil and avocados, nuts are an integral part of the traditional Mediterranean diet, considered to be one of the healthiest in the world(3).

Myth 2: You can’t eat nuts on a weight management diet

The truth: Studies show that regularly eating nuts can actually help to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight(4).

The protein content (typically 9 to 20g per 100g) and fibre content (typically 5 to 10g per 100g) of nuts helps satisfy hunger for longer, reducing appetite.

Eating a handful of nuts (30g) can reduce appetite and result in less food being eaten later in the day, helping reduce overall daily kilojoule or energy intake4. In addition, the fat in nuts helps to release satiety hormones in the gut which also helps control appetite(5).

Myth 3: Salted nuts – good or bad for you ?

The truth: Nuts in their raw unsalted form are most commonly recommended for healthy eating.

Most Australians consume too much salt in their diets6, however for some active individuals who have significant sodium and electrolytes losses, eating a handful of salted, dry or oil roasted nuts may help replace electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, as well as being a tasty way to refuel after training or competition. Raw nuts typically contain 1 to 11mg per 100g of sodium, whereas the salt content of salted, roasted nuts can vary depending on what manufacturers add. If you tire of the sweet flavour of sports drinks, a handful of salted nuts could be a good substitute. And if you can’t face another tin of tuna this week, it’s worth bearing in mind that the high protein content of nuts may also help repair and build muscle following resistance or weight training.

Other nutty nutrients

Tree nuts are all packed full of beneficial nutrients for healthy active bodies.

In addition to the healthy fats, protein and fibre;

• A handful of mixed nuts provides 20 per cent of the recommended daily requirement for Vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radical damage.
• A handful of almonds, Brazil nuts or cashews provides more than 75 per cent of the recommended daily requirement for magnesium, an essential mineral for nerve and muscle function and for strong bones.
• A handful of almonds, cashews or pecans provides more than 15 per cent of the recommended daily requirement for zinc, an essential mineral to support a strong immune system and assist in skin healing.
• Almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios contain the amino acid arginine, which helps keep blood vessels healthy(7).
• Almonds, cashews, pistachios and pecans contain natural plant sterols, substances found in plants that reduce cholesterol absorption from the intestine(8).
• Studies show that eating a handful of nuts 5 to 7 times a week can halve your risk of developing heart disease(9). The National Heart Foundation recommends snacking on plain, unsalted nuts as one way to help lower blood cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy heart(10).
After training, or throughout their working day, clients will often be tempted to snack. In itself, snacking is not a problem, but the food often chosen – highly processed products purchased from vending machines – can be far from ideal. Encourage clients to keep a small tub of nuts on their desk, in their training bag and in the car.

A handful of nuts can also be used when cooking to add taste and crunchy texture to a number of dishes (see healthy recipe for hazelnut, chilli and garlic pasta). Other ways of adding nuts to your meals include;

• Munching on pistachios as a pre-dinner appetiser.
• Sprinkling almonds or cashews through a stir fry.
• Roasting chestnuts or pine nuts and tossing them through a salad.
• Crumbling pecans or walnuts into yoghurt to serve with fruit.
• Sprinkling chopped, roasted hazelnuts or almonds onto low fat ice cream.
• Crumbling macadamias or pistachios onto grilled fish.
• Making a great pesto by blending pistachios, pine nuts or macadamias with fresh herbs, parmesan and a little olive oil.
• Bringing back the Waldorf Salad – lettuce, apple, walnuts and dressing.

Dietary fat and performance

For endurance athletes, studies show that low fat diets (restricting dietary fat to 16 per cent of total energy intake) are detrimental to endurance performance, compromising both immune function and stress responses(11). In fact, increasing total energy intake and dietary fat up to 40 per cent has been shown to increase endurance run time without adverse effects on immune or stress responses(12).
Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) advises everyone, including athletes, to choose a diet that is low in saturated fats (i.e., limit cakes, pastries, commercial fried foods). Most fat consumed should be healthy unsaturated(13).

• Nuts high in monounsaturated fat include: macadamias, cashews, almonds, pistachios and pecans.
• Nuts high in polyunsaturated fat include walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts and Brazil nuts.
• Omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat is found in pecans and walnuts.
• Regularly eating a variety of tree nuts will help ensure a good balance of healthy fats in your diet.

As with most types of food, when it comes to nuts moderation is key. By regularly consuming small quantities of nuts, you and your clients can reap the benefits of this nutrient rich food.


1. Maguire LS. et al. Fatty acid profile, tocopherol, squalene and phytosterol content of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and the macadamia nut. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2004; 55(3):171-8.

2. Ryan et al. Fatty acid profile, tocopherol, squalene and phytosterol content of Brazil, pecan, pine, pistachio and cashew nuts. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2006; 57(3-4): 219-28.

3. Visioli et al. Mediterranean food and health: building human evidence.  J Physiol Pharmacol 2005; 56: 1:37-49.

4. Mattes RD, Kris-Etherton PM & Foster GD. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults.  J Nutr 2008; 138:1741S-1745S.

5. Cassady BA et al. Mastication of almonds: effects of lipid bioaccessibility, appetite and hormone responses. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 89(3):794-800.

6. AWASH. Drop the Salt Campaign Brochure. Accessed, April 2009. http://www.awash.org.au/documents/Drop_the_Salt_Campaign_Brochure.pdf

7. Blum A, Miller H. The effects of L-arginine on atherosclerosis and heart disease. Int J Cardiovasc Intervent 1999; 2(2):97-100.

8. Kris-Etherton PM et al. The role of peanuts and tree nuts in the prevention of cononary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr 2008; 138(9): 1746S-1751S.

9. Fraser GE et al. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med 1992; 152: 1416-24.  Hu FB, Stampfer MJ. Nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. Current Athero Reports 1999; 1:205-210.  Kris-Etherton Pm et al. Nuts and their bioactive constituents: effects on serum lipids and other factors that affect disease risk. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(Suppl): 504S-511S.

10. National Heart Foundation, Lipid Management Guidelines – 2001. Med J Aus 2001; 175:S57-S85.

11. Muoio DM et al: The effect of dietary fat on metabolic adjustments to maximal VO2 and endurance in runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 26:81-88, 1994; Horvath PJ et al. The effects of varying dietary fat on performance and metabolism in trained male and female runners. J Am Coll Nutr 19:52-60, 2000

12. Venkatraman JT et al. Effects of dietary fat and endurance exercise on plasma cortisol, prostaglandin E2, interferon and lipid peroxides in runners.  J Am Coll Nutr 20:5:529-536, 2001

13. SDA Fact Sheet 9, Fat does it help performance?, June 2000

Lisa Yates, BSc MSc (Nutr&Diet)
An Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian and member of Sports Dietitians Australia, Lisa is the program manager and dietitian for Nuts for Life (www.nutsforlife.com.au) – a health education initiative of the Australian Nut Industry. In addition to helping clients achieve better health through preventing and managing overweight, type II diabetes, heart disease and gastrointestinal conditions, she works with amateur athletes to help them achieve personal bests.

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