Nuts – Alternative Health Food Or Not?

Nuts - Good and Bad News - photo: Eric Gaba
Nuts - Alternative Health Food or Not? - photo: Eric Gaba

Nuts are a great snack. They’re rich in nutrients and can sustain you between meals. They seem like the perfect alternative health snack.

But there are downsides to eating too many nuts. Today we’ll look at both the good and not so good qualities of this popular snack food.

First, the good news. In addition to supplying Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and other nutrients, nuts are quick, easy, portable and tasty. This makes them perfect travel foods. And they are great for satisfying us between meals.

If that’s all there were to them you might think they are nature’s perfect food.

But there’s a darker side to nuts. In some circumstances they can create or at least worsen specific health problems. Knowing what these are helps you make better choices at snack time.

What is the rest of the story? There are a couple of health-related issues you should be aware of if you eat nuts for a snack. Depending on your health you may want to restrict them or at least reduce how many you eat. You might also make different choices about which nuts to include on your list.

Of course nuts are high in calories. That makes them easy to add weight. But aside from that there are two other possible problems with eating too many. These are the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio and allergies.

The allergy problem is simple: nuts are among the most common allergic foods. If you have any type of negative reaction to nuts you’re likely to avoid them already. And that’s a good thing since some of these reactions can be life-threatening. Think peanut allergy. And there are also some subtle adverse food reactions sometimes. MRT testing can locate these issues.

The more hidden problem has to do with the Essential Fatty Acids in nuts. Long-time readers will know that we need EFAs in our diet. After all, that’s why they’re called “Essential.”

There are two specific types of EFAs that we need to eat in close proportion to one another. These are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.

You’ll find differing opinions of the very best dietary ratio between them. However, most experts say the best balance comes when eating one to three parts Omega-6 for every one part of Omega-3.

The problem? Modern diets are heavily skewed towards greater proportions of Omega-6. This is because of a large amount of grains and processed foods. Some estimates say that people often get as much as 20-to-1, 30-to-1 or even higher (Omega-6 to Omega-3) in their daily diet. That is much higher than the ideal 3-to-1 or less.

The problem with such a high 6-to-3 ratio can be expressed in a single word: inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids feed the pro-inflammatory biochemical pathways, while Omega-3 fatty acids feed the anti-inflammatory pathways.

There is growing awareness in the medical community about the role inflammation plays in chronic disease. Inflammation is part of heart disease, risk of strokes and heart attacks, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases. By having an excessively high 6-to-3 ratio, you are increasing the tendency towards such inflammatory reactions.

Alternative Health Snack or Supporting Disease?

What does this have to do with nuts? Take a look at the following diagram:

The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratios of Commonly Eaten Nuts

From this diagram you can see that only a few nuts approach the ideal 6-to-3 ratio. Others, like peanuts, have very high amounts of Omega-6 compared to Omega-3, and others have no Omega-3 at all (marked with a “∞”).

If you ate a lot of peanuts, for example, you’d have to eat a very large amount of salmon or take fairly high doses of fish oil to get a high enough amount of Omega-3 to compensate.

The bottom line is this: if you have a health condition that includes inflammatory issues (joint pain, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, heart disease, etc.), you’d be better off eating less nuts or avoiding them altogether. You will be able to find better alternative health snacks.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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