It’s a very confusing picture. In the first place, a lot of the foods we call ‘nuts’ are not nuts at all in the botanical sense: you probably know that about peanuts, but it’s also true of almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios and Brazil nuts.
That leaves hazelnuts and chestnuts, and a few other less common nuts. However, what they do all have in common is that they are rich in energy, protein and fats, mostly of the ‘good’ variety. And they are good sources of magnesium, arginine, antioxidants and fibre.
There are lots of lovely studies showing that eating plenty of nuts (20g daily in one recent study, and five portions a week in another) can dramatically reduce the inflammation associated with things like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and other chronic diseases. Diabetes is reduced by 40%, heart disease by almost 30%, cancer by 15%, and premature death by 22%.
That’s very impressive. But as always, you have to look at the bigger picture. All those nuts would have replaced other items in the diets of those taking part; things like meat, cheese and other less ‘healthy’ foods. And the participants were self-selecting, which means they’d have to be willing to follow the nut diet, which means they probably had a more healthy overall diet and lifestyle than the general population.
It doesn’t completely negate the findings, of course, but they are not quite as wonderful as they look at first sight.
Still, a few nuts are a good thing. If you have irritable bowel or other inflammatory digestive problems, it’s better to grind them before eating, so that there are no hard scratchy pieces for your gut to deal with. And don’t toast them, because that breaks down the unsaturated fats. Be moderate if you use them as snacks; they are certainly better than cake or biscuits, but too many can contribute to weight problems.