Awareness of the danger of cardiovascular diseases, I will say, is very high now in our communities and this is quite encouraging. A sizeable number of people now select what they eat and many more people engage in programmed and supervised physical activities. While we appreciate these efforts, there is one area that is not of utmost practice yet. The focus this weekend is about consumption of ‘NUTS’.
Studies have shown that enjoying handful of nuts everyday can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart diseases. Even those who eat nuts once a week have less heart disease than those who don’t eat nuts at all. Going more scientific, in general you can achieve an 8.3% reduction in the risk of death from coronary heart disease with each weekly serving of nuts. My esteemed readers, it is not about where the studies were conducted, it is all about the benefits of this readily available and cheap food.
Coronary artery diseases (the blockage of the vessels that supply the heart) are on the increase and it knows no bounds. The rich, the poor, the educationally disadvantaged and the literates are equally affected. One of my friends developed it recently and he concluded that, what will kill him has finally arrived. The cost of management is huge. It takes an average of half a million niara (N.5m) to diagnose. And depending on the number of stents needed, the amount ranges from one to three million naira for the procedure and additional monthly cost of medication which varies based on co–existence of other diseases. To me, study or no study, I will continue to eat nuts. What about you?
Why are nuts so heart-friendly?
Nuts contain a variety of nutrients and other ingredients that contribute to the lowering of the risk of heart diseases and control cholesterol:
Rich source of healthy fats — there is no need to avoid all fat in the diet; nuts are a healthy-high fat food. Healthy fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which help regulate blood cholesterol. Eating a variety of nut will ensure balanced form of these various fats. Some nuts rich in healthy fats (monounsaturated) include almonds, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts while nuts high in polyunsaturated fats are walnuts, pine nuts and Brazil nuts.
• Contains plant omega-3s: There are few types of plants that have this type of omega 3 which is chemically different from those found in the fish and sea foods. Both plant and animal sourced omega 3 are good for your heart. Walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts are rich in omeg-3s.
• Reduces cholesterol oxidation: This chemical interaction is the key step in atherosclerosis — the blocking and hardening of arteries which leads to heart attack and stroke. Consumption of adequate quantity of nuts prevents the commencement of this chemical interaction thereby preserving the integrity of the arteries that supply blood to the brain and the heart. Almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios are very good in this function.
• Natural source of plant sterol: It is not all about chemical interaction; nuts can mechanically prevent the absorption of abnormal cholesterol from the stomach and intestines. The plant sterol does this and large consumption of nuts by virtue of this function can make your stool bulkier and slimmy due to cholesterol contents in the stool. Also, nuts contain fibers which are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre helps reduce cholesterol reabsorption in the intestine thereby excreting it from the body. Insoluble fibers help maintain a healthy bowel functions. Nuts with skins are particularly high in fibre.
• A source of arginine, an amino acid building block of protein which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to relax and remain elastic; preventing blood clotting that can lead to heart disease. In addition, it may improve the penile erectile function. This may be a respite to some of us that suffer sexual dysfunction! If you have a better sexual performance after consumption of nuts, it will be nice you inform us through the e-mail or sms only.
• Lastly, it contains folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce high levels of amino acids called homocysteine, which is a risk factor for heart disease
From the foregoing, there is no single nut that can do all, hence the need for consumption of varieties of nuts daily.