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Even When Coupled With Obesity, Nuts and Seeds May Provide Health Benefits

While nuts and seeds have long been valued for their delicious tastes and unusual combination of nutrients, they have also been repeated questioned as high-calorie and high-fat foods. The antioxidants (especially vitamin E), fibers, and plant proteins found in most nuts and seeds can provide some great health benefits. But what about their 125-200 calories per ounce, and their accompanying 12-20 grams of fat?

Researchers headquartered at the Columbia University Medical Center examined these factors as one part of a large scale study called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). About 6,000 participants were studied, with an average age of 62 years and evenly divided between men and women. About 15% of the participants rarely or never ate nuts and seeds, and at the other end of the spectrum, about 11% consumed nuts and seeds 5 times per week or more. Most of the participants consumed nuts and seeds in moderation, either less than once per week (38%) or 1-4 times per week (36%).

A key point of the study was to determine how nut and seed intake influenced some markers of inflammation in the participants. Excessive inflammation is one of the foremost physiological events that can lead to heart disease, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. What the researchers found was less and less likelihood of excessive inflammation as nut and seed intake got higher and higher. The least evidence of excessive inflammation was found in blood work of the 670 participants who consumed nuts and seeds 5 times or more per week. And equally important, this connection between food and inflammation held up regardless of a person's weight status. Even obese participants (as determined by body mass index, or BMI) scored lower on their inflammation measurements when they consumed nuts and seeds at least 5 times per week.

There is no scientific evidence showing that it is healthier to be obese, or that there are benefits to consumption of excessive calories, or that nuts and seeds can be eaten indiscriminately and still contribute to optimal health. But this study points to a contribution that nuts and seeds can make to your health, even if you are obese. We have always prized nuts and seeds at the World's Healthiest Foods for their high quality plant fats - including their omega-3 fats - which are blended together with fiber and other key nutrients in the form of delicious tasting foods. You cannot find this rich combination of omega-3 fats and fiber in any other food group, including all animal foods and sea foods (which never have fiber). We suspect that some of these unique nutrient combinations are among the top reasons for the great health benefits of nuts and seeds, which may help keep you healthier regardless of your weight status.

Reference: Jiang R, Jacobs DR Jr, Mayer-Davis ES et al. Nut and seed consumption and inflammatory markers in the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis. Am J Epidemiol 2006 Feb 1;163(3):222-31.