Are Nuts Healthy?
Nuts have long had the reputation of being unhealthy, because they are so high in calories (and can also be high in sugar or salt, depending on how they are processed), but eaten in moderation they are full of nutrients and fibre, and have positive effects on health and weight, for both children and adults
Nuts and FibreNuts are high in fibre, which increases the feeling of fullness and so can help with overeating, therefore reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes, both of which are increasing in children. A diet high in fibre is good for the health of the digestive system.
Nuts and FatNuts are high in fat (up to 80% of the weight of the nut), but the fat is monounsaturated, which is healthier than the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products. Cashews are lower in fat than most other nuts. Children do need proportionally more calories and fat for their size than adults, as they are growing, and tend to be more active.
Nuts and Heart HealthNuts can lower the risk of coronary heart disease in a number of ways, and though this is something that affects adults, early signs can develop in children, and eating for a healthy heart can’t start too early. Eating nuts lowers LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, and this may be because of the plant sterols (phytosterols) in many nuts. The l-arginine in nuts reduces the development of blood clots, and improves the health of the lining of the arteries. The vitamin E and flavanoids in nuts may also reduce the formation of plaques of cholesterol, which harden the arteries. Nuts are also a source of antioxidants.
Nuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain healthy heart rhythms. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and may also help in asthma, eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Nuts that seem to have a positive effect on heart health include tree nuts such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts and pistachios, as well as peanuts (which are legumes rather than tree nuts).
Nuts and ProteinNuts are high in protein, and are often used as alternative protein sources by vegetarians and vegans.
Nuts and NutrientsNuts are a good source of vitamins, including:
- vitamin A
- vitamin B (including vitamin B1 or thiamine; vitamin B2 or riboflavin; vitamin B3 or niacin; vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid; vitamin B6 or pyridoxine; vitamin B7 or biotin; and vitamin B9 or folic acid)
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- vitamin K.
Nuts and ChildrenWhole or chopped nuts can be a choking hazard for small children, so should be crushed or flaked for children under five.
Because of the risk of allergies, in families where there is asthma, hay fever or any other allergies, children shouldn’t have nuts until they are three years old. If there is no allergy in the family, they can have nuts from weaning (but obviously finely ground to avoid choking). Women with allergies in their families should avoid nuts when pregnant or breastfeeding.