Are nuts a trick or a treat for your diet?

Halloween is the time of year when huge bags of monkey nuts, hazelnuts and all kinds of assortments hit the supermarket shelves. Nuts are a traditional snack at Halloween but do you shy away from nuts?

Nuts are often perceived as being unhealthy, and yes, they are relatively high in calories and fat, but nuts are also crammed full of goodness.

Their nutrients and healthy fatty acids might even help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. A study at Pennsylvania State University last year found that diets rich in peanuts – and high in mono-unsaturated fat – were just as good at lowering total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol as very low fat diets. But a very low-fat diet also raised unhealthy triglycerides by 11%, while the peanut-rich diet lowered them by 13%.

Nuts will pile on the calories if eaten in large amounts in addition to your normal food intake, but the odd handful (and that’s a small handful.) are part of a healthy diet. But before you add a giant bag of roasted, salted peanuts or some chocolate brazils to your shopping list, remember that we’re talking about nuts in their ‘natural’ state - not covered in salt and extra fat. Nuts can make a tasty change and have a look at some of these facts to see how good they are for you.

There are many different types of nuts and all provide large amounts of protein - they can even be used as a substitute for meat as they have roughly the same amount of calories and fat. They can therefore play a very important role in the diet of vegetarians. Nuts are also a very useful source of many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, phosphorus, folate, potassium, copper and magnesium. Nuts do tend to be high in fat but the fats contained are mostly monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, which can reduce the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Nutty facts

- Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium which is needed by the thyroid gland for hormone metabolism, and which also acts as an antioxidant

- Chestnuts are lower in fat than most other nuts

- Peanuts contain a heart-healthy antioxidant that is also found in red wine

- As nuts have a high-fat content, they can go rancid very quickly and should be stored in the fridge or freezer

- Unlike other nuts, coconut is very high in saturated fat and should only be used sparingly.

Nuts can be used widely in cookery, in both sweet and savoury dishes such as cakes, biscuits, soups, stews and salads. Nut butters are widely available with the most popular one being peanut butter. However, when buying peanut butter, look out for brands that don’t contain hydrogenated vegetable oils as these can be high in trans fats (which raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol) and will undo all the good of eating the peanuts.

So now that nuts have the green light in your diet, this isn’t an excuse to eat anything remotely associated with nuts. Just because there’s a walnut on a Walnut Whip, or a pecan nut on top of that slice of pie, this isn’t the go ahead to tuck in. Nor does it mean we can keep bowls of peanuts on our desks and nibble on them throughout the day. Remember, moderation is the key – eating about 30 grams of mixed nuts a day will give you about 180 calories and 16 grams of fat. As long as you allow for this in your daily intake then you’ve cracked it.

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