Nuts: benefits and contraindications


There are now many types of nuts that can be found in supermarkets, fruit and vegetable shops and more specialized ones. Over the years many studies have highlighted the benefits derived from the regular consumption of nuts on the human body and for this reason it has been increasingly included in diets and has been recommended as a snack suitable for everyone, adults and children.

As with almost all foods, however, excessive and long-term consumption can have several contraindications that should not be ignored.

In this article we will shed some light on nuts also by means of some information and advice in order to consume nuts in a conscious way.

Let’s start with the benefits associated with the consumption of nuts. Here is a short list of the main nutritional aspects that made this food a real “elixir”:

Unsaturated fat: the fats found in nuts are mainly made up of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including those of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 series. It has been shown that an adequate and balanced intake of unsaturated fats in the diet, and in particular the replacement of saturated fats with unsaturated fats, helps lowering and normalizing blood cholesterol levels and also reducing the risk of onset of diseases affecting the cardiovascular system. In order to take full advantage of the benefits associated with the consumption of nuts, it is always better to eat natural nuts, not toasted or salted, to prevent nutrients from degrading with heat treatments and not to ingest too much sodium.
Vegetable protein: nuts are also a good source of vegetable protein. The protein content of nuts makes them an excellent alternative for supplementing the diet of vegetarian people and, above all, veg people because, by following a diet that involves the total elimination of animal proteins, vegetable proteins must be supplemented. Another interesting aspect concerns the fact that the intake of vegetable proteins, compared to animal proteins, has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Vitamins and minerals: nuts contain minerals and vitamins that are important for the proper functioning of the body and for maintaining good health. Among the most important minerals are magnesium, of which almonds are a good source, but also iron, copper, phosphorus and calcium. Among vitamins the most represented in all types of nuts is certainly Vitamin E, which contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, but also some B vitamins may be found.
Fibre: most nuts, especially shelled nuts, are also an excellent source of insoluble fibre. It has been shown that by taking the right amount of fibre with food on a daily basis (for an adult individual the right amount corresponds to about 25g of fibre/day) several beneficial effects can be proved, including a reduction in intestinal transit time, an increase in the sense of satiety and an aid in normalising total cholesterolemia.
Glycemic peak: another important aspect is that the combination of fats, proteins and fibres present in nuts contributes not only to the prolonging of the feeling of satiety, but also to the slowdown of the onset of the glycemic peak, which occurs as a consequence of the intake of a meal containing carbohydrates. For this reason, nuts are an excellent snack and, at the same time, when added to dishes they help maintaining the total glycemic index of the meal under control with consequent benefits from a metabolic point of view.

As already mentioned, despite the great number of health benefits of eating nuts and have now been scientifically proven, this does not allow us to consume nuts uncontrollably and use them disproportionately. It often happens, in fact, that when people tend to emphasize only the beneficial aspects of a particular food, they tend to abuse it in the belief that the fact that it is good for health implies that there are no contraindications.

For what concerns nuts, despite the several beneficial effects, a conscious consumption is still needed from consumers:

Calories: the first obvious aspect that should be taken into account when eating nuts are calories. Nuts are often also referred to as “lipid nuts” by reference to their high fat content. Although they are good fats, it is obvious that a food with a high fat content is also very high in calories, as 1g fat provides 9kcal. To keep this under control, of course, what is needed is to pay attention to the doses and introduce nuts into a balanced diet that is suitable for our personal needs. The new guidelines for a healthy diet recommend a portion of 30g of nuts 1 to 3 times a week for adults, to be calibrated according to the diet and metabolic needs of each individual.

Phytic acid: Phytic acid is a molecule that many plant species use in order to accumulate phosphorus during the ripening phases. Together with other compounds present in nuts, such as oxalic acid and some enzymatic inhibitors, phytic acid also influences the absorption of minerals and reduces their bioavailability. It acts by binding in particular not only to iron and zinc, but also to calcium and magnesium as well as some proteins. This means that phytic acid is seen as a harmful molecule and is therefore to be avoided completely, although in fact several experimental studies are also bringing to light some positive effects that phytic acid could have on the body. Nuts are a food particularly rich in phytic acid and in order to limit their action it may be useful to apply soaking and fermentation techniques, even if those who follow a balanced and varied diet do not risk incurring deficiencies derived from the action of phytic acid.
Plant proteins and essential amino acids: although the protein content of nuts is quite high, the biological value of the proteins present in it is not as high. What is meant by biological value is the unit of measurement of the quality of the proteins we consume with the diet that is mainly based on their content of essential amino acids, i.e. those amino acids that must necessarily be introduced with the diet because the body is not able to synthesize them by itself. Plant proteins are generally deficient in one or more essential amino acids and this can be a problem especially for those on a vegan diet. Also in this case it is not necessary to despair, as it is sufficient to learn how to combine foods well so as to take all the essential amino acids from different vegetable sources. Getting help from a nutritionist in building balanced meals is always a good idea.
Allergies: nuts, peanuts and different types of seeds are included in the list of allergens in Annex II of Regulation (EC) No. 1169/2011. Allergy to nuts and all its derivatives (sweets, vegetable drinks, oils and sauces prepared with nuts, etc.) is a widespread health problem, in fact it is among the first allergic forms in the world by diffusion, and can manifest itself in very different forms, more or less aggressive. Unfortunately, in case of allergy to nuts, there are not many remedies; the only solution is to avoid eating it. To this end, it is essential to learn to read well the nutritional labels and lists of ingredients of what you decide to buy, learning to recognize even those phrases that may represent hidden sources of these foods.
Diseases of the digestive system: the experts of the Humanitas Foundation also advise against the consumption of nuts for all those who suffer from gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, gastritis (especially after meals) and ulcers due to the high fibre content that can further irritate the digestive system.


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