A Nutty Little Change

January 21, 2014 in Diabetes Management, Health, Mediterranean, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

After writing last week’s Apple a Day (keeps the statins away) article, I found a nice piece that may help convince you that making small changes instead of the all-encompassing ‘I’m going to become healthier’ type of change. It’s an LA Time article by Mary MacVean called; With New Year’s resolutions, it’s best to think small. She has a nice sense of humor, but in addition, does make a point. You also may want to consider Eat Move Sleep, which focuses on a series of small wins, too.

This week, I decided to concentrate on another really simple change you can make and obtain big health benefits for your effort. Last week I choose to focus on our greatest nemesis – cardiovascular disease; this week’s little change can help decrease risk of colon cancer and type 2 diabetes, in addition to heart disease.

In November, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found reduced risk of cancer, in addition to the already known reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in those who consumed more nuts. The NEJM study is a very nice resource because they cite the considerable previous research studies that found reduced risk. One of the interesting findings of this study is that it did not seem to matter if the nuts consumed were peanuts, which are actually legumes and not truly nuts at all.  I’m especially excited about this finding because some people will say that nuts are too expensive to consume. I’m hoping that peanuts won’t be considered expensive.

For you long term readers, you know that I’ve written before about the benefits of eating nuts; one fairly long review on nuts, posted on May 15, 2012, is: It May seem Nutty. But for those of you, new to the site, the concept may be new. With all this research, eating nuts just got ratcheted up a notch in health benefits. We should expect these crossover benefits to continue to be discovered in many realms of nutrition. The evidence is just mounting up faster and faster as science gets better at tracking the growing knowledge of the components of food and the growing knowledge of the body’s use of the nutrients. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain; and, is good to protect you from cancer, diabetes, and so on. Moving toward a healthy diet is worth the effort, however small the effort is – whole body benefits are the outcome.

Not that we need to learn all the types of nutrients in a group of food like nuts (unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phenolic antioxidants, phytosterols and other phytonutrients – to name the major groups); but when we know a type of food is so nutrient-dense, if could be a heads-up to try to eat this food. I’m more than happy to benefit from all the work that Harvard is doing in this area, tracking data from nurses and other health professionals for over 30 years.

Let me get to the easy change business. The first caveat is to not sit down with a 12-ounce can of nuts within easy reach when you want to watch TV or visit with your friends. Nuts are really healthy in moderation. It is very easy to eat too many nuts while being distracted – mindless eating. Nuts are high in fat, albeit a healthy type of fat, and the calories still do count.  The nice thing is that they are amazingly effective at providing satiety, so a little can really help tamp down your appetite. Actually, that is one of the first ways that I began to use nuts. When my family and I were young and I was cooking dinner in a very hungry state, I’d grab a handful of peanuts and nibble away. It really did help to dampen my ravenous appetite; it made me safe from eating other less nutritious foods that would have ended up with more calories in my diet than needed.

Another way of using nuts is to keep a sandwich bag or one of the individual packets of nuts in your purse, pocket, or brief case; then when you are delayed for a mealtime, you have them handy and can protect yourself from a fast food disaster.

We eat a few nuts in the evening; just enough to fill the bottom of a nut cup. Putting a small portion of them in a little cup protects us from mindless, distracted eating before we even start eating. We decide how many to eat and put the can or bottle away. Distracted eating can be disastrous. Have you ever been a victim?

One of my favorite things about the study mentioned above is that peanuts were found to fit right into the positive results.  So you don’t need to invest in whole cashews or almond, or in cashew butter or almond butter to reap the benefits.  Peanut butter is a relatively good bargain.  I always buy the all-peanut product in peanut butter. I do not want to include some hydrogenated vegetable oil in my peanut butter.  I realize that some of you may not want to have to stir in the natural, non-hydrogenated peanut oil, but for me it’s worth the minor inconvenience of stirring. I find that once I open it and stir it, storing it in the refrigerator, it doesn’t need stirring again. I scoop out the amount of fairly firm peanut butter that I need on a little microwave safe dish; zap it for a few seconds and it is then easily spreadable.

If you, like sticking with meals and no snacking, nuts are easily added to meals. On cereal days, sliced nuts are sprinkled in our oatmeal or on our shredded wheat as a matter of habit. We enjoy the nutty flavor and crunchy addition. Nuts can easily be sprinkled into salad or stir-fry with or without a recipe. And, of course, even soup has its nut accompaniment – try peanut or other nut butters on whole grain crackers to eat along with the soup.

Truly sorry for those who are allergic to nuts; they not only miss the health benefits, but the flavorful, rich, crunchy enjoyment – a healthy food that fits into the Mediterranean diet and most healthy eating styles. Adding nuts to your diet is a pretty easy change. Try it; you’ll like it.