For many people, the undue emphasis on extremely low-fat diets has resulted in health difficulties. I have encountered many individuals who have not thrived on vegan or flexitarian diets. They may have developed dry skin, thinning hair, muscle cramps, poor sleep, and poor exercise tolerance. Often they do not realize their real problem. They go back to eating large amounts of animal products, not knowing that they were fat deficient on their low-fat vegan diet. For most of these individuals, eating more healthy fats from nuts and seeds, taking a DHA supplement, and eating fewer starchy carbohydrates clears up the problem. This is not so uncommon. Some people simply require more essential fatty acids, both omega-6 and omega-3. DHA and EPA are those healthful, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and commonly known as fish oil. They are available from vegan sources today, mostly from algae or yeast.
A high-starch, low-fat diet—regardless of whether or not the dieter is eating meat—can derail weight loss and lead to high triglycerides, preventing lowered cholesterol levels. I have cared for some patients who came to me after they developed irregular heartbeats or cardiac arrhythmias. These conditions resolved when I added nuts and seeds back to their diet. Insufficient fat in the diet can also compromise the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and healthful phytochemicals. When you eat a nut- or seed-based dressing on a salad, you absorb more of the carotenoids in the raw vegetables. More than ten times as much of certain nutrients are absorbed. A study detecting blood levels of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene found negligible levels after ingestion of salads with fat-free salad dressing but high levels after the same foods were eaten with fatty dressings.
Ultimately, the nut icing on the carrot cake was displayed in the Adventist Health Study-1, a twelve-year study of thirty-four thousand Adventists in California. This group is the longest-lived population that has ever been formally studied in depth. We knew that the vegan and near-vegan Adventists lived longer than other Californians, but what were the precise factors accounting for the years of life gained? Interestingly, this study found that the strongest effect of any food on promoting longevity was the consumption of nuts or seeds five or more times per week. The consumption of nuts added years of life, likely due to the antiarrythmic effect of nuts and seeds, compared to non–nut eaters, who suffered double the rate of fatal coronary events. For any population at risk of heart disease, especially diabetics, eating some seeds and nuts daily is imperative and maybe even lifesaving.
Let’s take a look at a day’s menu of equal calories both with and without nuts and seeds, to see some subtle but important nutritional differences.
|WITHOUT NUTS/SEEDS||WITH NUTS/SEEDS|
|Blueberries and Dates||Blueberries, Walnuts, Flax Seeds|
|Salad with Fat-free Italian Dressing||Salad with Caesar Salad Dressing/Dip|
|Baked Potato with Broccoli||Broccoli with Red Lentil Sauce|
|Whole Grain Bread||Apple|
|Raw Veggies with Fat-free Ranch Dressing||Raw Veggies with Garbanzo Guacamole|
|Easy Bean and Vegetable Chili||Easy Bean and Vegetable Chili|
|Brown Rice||Fruit Bowl|
|Whole Wheat Roll|
|WITHOUT NUTS/SEEDS||WITH NUTS/SEEDS|
|Fat||21 gm 9.2 %||66 gm 28 %|
|Carbohydrate||381 gm 76.8 %||277 gm 54 %|
|Protein||69.5 gm 14 %||85.5 gm 18 %|
|Arginine (amino acid)||3,627 mg||5,806 mg|
|Vitamin E||.29 mg||.66 mg|
|Sodium||1,570 mg||644 mg|
|Calcium||978 mg||1,356 mg|
|Iron||24 mg||29 mg|
|Phosphorus||1,387 mg||1,694 mg|
|Magnesium||540 mg||750 mg|
|Zinc||9.6 mg||13.6 mg|
|Copper||2.2 mg||4.6 mg|
You can see that the diet with nuts and seeds is higher in protein and much higher in the amino acid arginine. Arginine has special properties that benefit the heart, promoting vasodilatation (relaxation of the vessel wall) and preventing blood clotting. It also includes higher amounts of vitamin E and minerals, but that does not adequately reflect the major difference between these diets. The very lowfat diet greatly reduces the absorption of most of the carotenoids and other phytochemicals contained in a meal. They simply are not well absorbed in such a low-fat environment. The benefits of nuts and seeds are enhanced when they are eaten with a meal; they are not for snacking.
There is one more fascinating gem about nuts and seeds, and I do not want you to forget it: the calories are not all biologically available. They are similar to the resistant starch calories in beans. About 30 percent of the recorded calories from nuts and seeds are passed into the stool, not absorbed into the bloodstream. Eating nuts and seeds increases stool fat, which means not all the fat is absorbed. Plus, the sterols, stanols, and other sponge-like fibers in nuts and seeds carry other calories from the diet into the stool as well. So in the calculated dietary menus above—one with nuts and seeds, one without—even though the calories recorded and eaten are about the same, the amount of absorbed calories from the diet plan with the nuts and seeds would be about 100 calories lower.
Interestingly, however, the increase in fecal fat and fiber does not occur when the diet contains the oils instead of whole nuts and seeds. In other words, calories from oil are absorbed almost 100 percent. For example, eating whole peanuts versus peanut oil would have completely different biological effects.
Remember, it is best to eat nuts and seeds raw or only lightly toasted. When you roast nuts and seeds, you form carcinogenic acrylamides as the food is browned. You decrease the protein and create more ash from the roasting process. The more the nuts and seeds are cooked, the more their amino acids are destroyed. You also lower levels of calcium, iron, selenium, and other minerals in the roasting process.
With your growing awareness of the health properties of nuts and seeds, please take into consideration that they should be eaten in moderation. Should we sit in front of our TVs, eat an entire bag of nuts in an hour, and complain when we gain weight? Of course not. Healthy eaters avoid excessive calories and do not eat for recreation. Eat only one ounce a day if you are overweight. If you are thin, physically active, pregnant, or nursing, eat two to four ounces daily according to your caloric needs.
As we are beginning to see clearly, ideal health has very little to do with a precise ratio of carbs,
fats, and proteins. To prevent and reverse diabetes, we must make certain that we are paying attention to our nutrient-per-calorie model. We need to eat foods with micronutrients and other proven health benefits to achieve our health goals.
It’s time for action. It’s time to eat the right foods that lead to long-lasting health.