(NaturalHealth365) The ever-increasing prevalence of obesity nationwide has given rise to a disturbing new statistic. According to the American Heart Association, between 20 and 25 percent of the adult population currently suffers from metabolic syndrome, a constellation of unhealthy conditions that significantly raises the risk of developing life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
To put it another way: one in four Americans now faces a drastically shortened lifespan – and even the possibility of sudden premature death – from a condition that is, to a large extent, avoidable. As with so many other modern conditions that jeopardize our health and well-being, a lack of physical activity and a diet high in processed foods, trans fats and refined sugars are the primary culprits that set the stage for metabolic syndrome.
What is the ‘flip side’ of this bleak situation?
New research shows that increasing your consumption of certain natural, unprocessed foods – namely, “tree nuts” such as Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts – may help to reverse the condition. Naturally, you may be wondering, how do tree nuts help those suffering from metabolic syndrome?
Markers for metabolic syndrome include low levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and central obesity, or excess abdominal fat. An individual who suffers from any three of these conditions is considered to have metabolic syndrome.
According to a recent scientific review, eating Brazil nuts, cashews and other tree nuts can reduce two different markers of metabolic syndrome: triglyceride levels and blood sugar. In an analysis recently published in the medical journal BMJ Open, Dr. John Sievenpiper, a noted physician and researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital, evaluated 49 randomized clinical studies involving 2,000 participants.
Most of the studies involved patients adding 50 grams of tree nuts to their daily diets for eight weeks. Sievenpiper notes that the nuts were most effective at reducing triglycerides and blood sugar when they were eaten in place of refined carbohydrates, and speculates that the nuts’ high levels of monounsaturated fats were partly responsible for the beneficial effect. The tree nuts’ high levels of magnesium, which plays a role in insulin-mediated glucose uptake, also promote glycemic control.
A wealth of clinical research supports the life-enhancing effects of tree nuts
Many studies and trials support the beneficial effects of tree nuts. In a recent review published in 2014 in the scientific journal PLoS One, the authors noted that diets emphasizing tree nuts significantly lowered hemoglobin A1C and fasting glucose levels, thereby improving glycemic control in individuals with type-2 diabetes and reducing the need for antihyperglycemic drugs.
Earlier research has shown an association between increased consumption of tree nuts and lowered risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, less insulin resistance and reduced adiposity, or body fat. In a study published last year in BioMed Central’s journal BMC Medicine, researchers found that people who eat tree nuts – particularly walnuts – more than three times a week have a reduced risk of dying from heart disease and cancer compared to those who don’t eat tree nuts.
Consumers of tree nuts reduced their overall mortality risk by 39 percent; people who favored walnuts – with 45 percent lower overall mortality rates – fared even better. Regular consumers of tree nuts lowered their odds of dying from cardiovascular disease by a dramatic 55 percent.
Tree nuts are rich in healthy fat, but not fattening
As several studies have demonstrated, tree nuts – although high in calories and fats – are not a “fattening” food per se. Several studies have shown that regular consumers of tree nuts tend to be more slender than those who don’t eat nuts.
In one influential study, volunteers added a daily handful of almonds to their diet without making any attempt to reduce calories or adjust their food intake. Not only did they not add pounds; they actually lost modest amounts of weight. The almonds seemed to cause the participants to automatically eat fewer carbohydrates, without consciously trying to do so. A weight-loss technique that achieves results without conscious effort – isn’t this every dieter’s dream?
Tree nuts have an impressive nutritional profile
In addition to their healthy monounsaturated fatty acids – including oleic acid, the same LDL cholesterol-lowering fat that is found in olives and avocados – tree nuts contain healthy amounts of vegetable protein and dietary fiber, and are loaded with assorted antioxidants, phytochemicals and phytosterols. Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps maintain the integrity of cell membranes, is found in tree nuts in good supply; walnuts are particularly rich in this free radical-scavenging nutrient.
All tree nuts are extraordinarily rich in the essential minerals magnesium and potassium, as well as in the trace minerals selenium and manganese – which play a vital role in producing glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase, the body’s two premier endogenous antioxidants.
Medical authorities are beginning to recognize the superior nutritional qualities of tree nuts.
Conventional medical institutions are becoming convinced of what many natural health advocates and proponents of vegetarian and vegan diets have known all along – that tree nuts are nutritional powerhouses that can fight disease and promote health.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted all tree nuts a qualified health claim for cardiovascular disease risk reduction, while medically-acclaimed diets, such as the Mediterranean and DASH –Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – diets, emphasize healthy amounts of tree nuts.
Are there any other tree nuts that help with metabolic syndrome?
Yes. While Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts appear to be the most studied, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, coconuts, pistachios and pine nuts are also delicious and satisfying snacks that offer similar health benefits.
When buying tree nuts, opt for those that are organically grown and free of pesticides and chemicals; avoid those that are heavily salted or sugared. Like any food, tree nuts carry the potential for allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to them. Naturally, if you are allergic to tree nuts, don’t eat them.
Whether you choose chewy, buttery cashews, creamy Brazil nuts, delicately-flavored almonds or rich, satisfying Macadamia nuts, you can be assured that you are snacking on one of nature’s most powerful foods – capable of helping to reduce the threat of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.