Nuts Are Nutrient Dense

The food that we eat contains nutrients that help our bodies function at their best. Some foods have more nutrients than others. Nuts are nutrient-dense foods. That is, for the calories they contain, nuts are packed with important nutrients, including the good polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, dietary fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Nuts make a great snack.

An ounce of plain nuts contains between 160 to 200 calories and about 13 to 20 grams of fat. While nuts are relatively high in fat, it's important to note that they are naturally cholesterol-free and trans fat-free, and many varieties are also low in saturated fat. The majority of the fat in nuts is unsaturated ("good fats")—specifically, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—which contributes to nuts' potential health benefits. Replacing saturated fat in your diet with unsaturated fats, like those found in nuts, may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that eating 112 ounces a day of peanuts and most nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and peanuts) may help reduce the risk of heart disease when they are part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and balanced in calories.

Most nuts, as well as peanuts, are good sources of many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs for good health.

Here's the role these vitamins play:

B vitamins. Folate, vitamin B6 and niacin are all B vitamins in certain nuts, and each has a specific role in maintaining good health:

Folate plays a number of important roles. It helps produce DNA and RNA, the basic building blocks for body cells, and works in conjunction with vitamin B12 to form hemoglobin (which carries oxygen) in red blood cells. Peanuts and sunflower kernels are good sources of folate, supplying at least 10% of the Recommended Daily Intake per one-ounce serving.

Vitamin B6 helps your body form protein components to make cells. It helps the body form red blood cells and antibodies to help maintain a healthy immune system. Pistachio nuts are excellent sources of vitamin B6, supplying 20% of the Recommended Daily Intake per one-ounce serving.

Riboflavin, thiamin and niacin help your body utilize sugars and fats, and help release energy from foods. A one-ounce serving of almonds is a good source of riboflavin, while a one-ounce serving of Brazil nuts, macadamias and pistachios provides a good source of thiamin. A one-ounce serving of peanuts and sunflower seeds provides a good source of niacin.

Vitamin E. Vitamin E works as an antioxidant in the body, helping protect cells and tissues by neutralizing free radicals. The majority of Americans are not consuming the recommended levels of vitamin E in their diet. A one-ounce serving of almonds provides 35% of the Recommended Daily Intake for vitamin E, while a one-ounce serving of hazelnuts provides 20% and an ounce of peanuts provides 10%.

Magnesium. Magnesium is important for energy metabolism and protein synthesis in the body. Magnesium is a vital component of bone structure and supports contraction and relaxation of muscles. Many Americans do not get an adequate amount of magnesium in their diet. Almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews are excellent sources of magnesium, with a one-ounce serving providing at least 20% of the Recommended Daily Intake. One ounce of peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts are also a good source, providing 10% of the Recommended Daily Intake.

Copper. Copper is found in many body enzymes. It is also essential in making hemoglobin in red blood cells. Cashews and pistachios are excellent sources of copper, providing at least 20% of the Recommended Daily Intake per one-ounce serving.

Fiber. Many nuts are good sources of dietary fiber. The main type of fiber found in nuts helps with digestion by moving waste through the intestinal tract without being digested itself. It adds softness and bulk to stools and promotes regularity. The vast majority of Americans don't get nearly enough fiber in their diet—recommended amounts range from 21-38 grams per day, depending on gender and age. Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds provide a good source of fiber—212g per one-ounce serving.

Protein. Nuts are an important source of plant protein. According to the USDA Food Guide, MyPyramid, nuts belong to the Meat and Beans group and are particularly important for people who do not consume meat. Vegetarians could select nuts, seeds and other legumes from this group to meet their protein needs. At the 2000-calorie level, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that 112 ounces of nuts combined with 23 cups of legumes can be substituted for 512 ounces of meat, poultry and/or fish to meet protein recommendations. One-half ounce of nuts or 14 cup of legumes is considered equivalent to one ounce of meat, poultry or fish in the USDA Food Guide.

* Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat & cholesterol and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.