There’s a good reason that people put nuts in trail mix to take with them when they’re hiking. Nuts provide sustained energy because, thanks to their mix of fat and protein, they’re a “slow-burning” food. For the same reason, they’re friendly to your blood sugar. In fact, Harvard researchers discovered that women who regularly ate nuts (about a handful five times a week) were 20 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t eat them as often.
Yes, nuts are high in fat — but it’s mostly “good” fat. Good fat may reduce insulin resistance, and in the case of most nuts, 85 percent of their fat is this kind.
Good fats, of course, also improve heart health, even boosting levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. In studies, people who ate as few as 5 ounces (150 g) of nuts a nuts week as part of an overall heart-healthy diet lowered their risk of developing heart disease by 35 percent compared to those who ate nuts less than once a month. (This doesn’t apply to macadamia nuts, though, because of their high saturated fat content.) In fact, one study found that a diet that includes unsaturated fats from almonds and walnuts may have 10 percent more cholesterol-lowering power than a traditional cholesterol-lowering diet.
If you eat nuts frequently, you may also be damping down chronic inflammation in your body, which can help reduce your risk of both diabetes and heart disease. And the protein in most nuts is unusually rich in the amino acid arginine, which may help relax blood vessels, making a heart attack less likely.
Some nuts, including peanuts, walnuts, and almonds, also contain plant sterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol, and a natural compound called resveratrol, the same one found in red wine and shown to lower heart disease risk. Like fish, walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fats, another shot in the arm against heart disease.
Peanuts aren’t technically nuts at all, but legumes. Unlike nuts that grow on trees, they grow underground, but for health, they rank right up there with all the aboveground nuts.
Nuts provide a hard-to-find nutrient — vitamin E, an important antioxidant that may help fight prostate and lung cancers. Brazil nuts are selenium superstars, providing a whopping 200 times more of the mineral than any other nut. Selenium has been linked to prevention of both cancer and heart disease. Almonds provide bone-building calcium. Hazelnuts and cashews boast the most copper, a much-needed nutrient for people with diabetes.
Glycemic Load: Very low