2 Healthiest Choices For Snacks Between Meals And Why

Hi, this is Galit Goldfarb, nutritionist, and medical scientist, and welcome to my blog where you will find great articles to help you transform your health quickly through practical lifestyle changes based on science. My articles will guide you, step-by-step, to lasting weight loss and better health for you and your family no matter your current situation.

Today I will talk about two excellent snack options that actually improve your health and are very easy to carry with you wherever you go.

1. Nuts:

In a recent systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of twenty prospective studies which was published in December 2016, and looked at nut consumption and risk of death from chronic diseases, found that consistent nut intake was associated with:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk for cancer
  • Reduced risk for all-cause mortality
  • Reduced risk of death from respiratory illness.
  • Reduced risk of mortality from diabetes.
  • Reduced risk of death from infections.

They claimed that if the associations were causal, then an estimated 4.4 million premature deaths in the America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Western Pacific would be attributable to a nut intake of below 20 grams per day in 2013.

But why are nuts so beneficial to our health?

Nuts are rich in antioxidants and have hypocholesterolemic, cardioprotective, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antidiabetic effects.

Nowadays, there is a misconception that increased consumption of nuts may lead to unwanted weight gain and increase the risk of developing obesity due to their high energy density and high-fat content. However, studies show that this is simply not true.

42-g-nutsOne study shows that despite concerns that pistachio nut consumption may promote weight gain in Chinese subjects with metabolic syndrome, the daily ingestion of either 42 g or 70 g of pistachios for 12 weeks did not lead to weight gain or an increase in waist-to-hip ratio! They actually found that high pistachio consumption may improve risk factors associated with the metabolic syndrome and weight gain.

This is what 42 and 70 grams of natural pistachio nuts look like:
70-g-nuts

Another study concludes that the inclusion of nuts in the typical diet does not induce weight gain, despite an expected increase in total caloric intake.

Another study showed that nut consumption increases the antioxidant levels in our bloodstream resulting in lower fat oxidation and free radical DNA damage.

It has been shown that the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet do not come from higher consumption of olive oil, wine or fish, but rather from the consumption of olives, nuts, and vegetables, especially the latter two which were shown to be directly related to reduced cardiovascular events.

A different study showed that nut consumption had a stabilizing effect on the plaque in the arteries, rendering them less likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.

Adding nuts to our diet has been shown to improve endothelial function by increasing the ability of our arteries to dilate naturally by about 30 percent.

The Harvard health professionals studies, involving 119,000 people with approximately 30 years of follow-up, found nut consumption was associated with fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness and most importantly fewer deaths overall. This was confirmed by other major prospective studies in a 2014 review.

The Netherlands Cohort Study found that people who ate just 10 grams of nuts each day had a 23 percent lower risk of death from any cause.

Here is what 10 g of walnuts looks like:

10-g-nuts

Nuts reduce death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness, even after controlling for other lifestyle factors.

The greatest benefits were shown to come from walnuts particularly in the prevention of death from cancer perhaps due to their very high levels of omega three fatty acids (113% of the daily recommended value per serving). It was found that those eating more than three servings of walnuts a week appeared to reduce their risk of dying from cancer by half.  The study showed that breast cancer risk in mice was reduced by 50 percent from eating walnuts, and prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30 to 40 percent as well as improved reproductive health in men.

As I mentioned, a small handful of walnuts provides 113 percent of the daily recommended value of plant-based omega-3 fats, along with high amounts of copper, manganese, molybdenum, and biotin. They also contain phytosterols and antioxidants with potent free-radical scavenging abilities.

But walnuts are not the only beneficial nuts. Clinical trials have shown that all nuts help lower cholesterol and oxidation, and improve our arterial function and blood sugar levels.

Walnuts, as well as hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and almonds, contain the amino acid l-arginine, which offers health benefits to people with increased risk for heart disease by changing into nitric oxide, a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation.

According to a 2016 University of Florida study, eating a handful of almonds each day or the equivalent amount of almond butter is an easy way to improve your diet and cut back on consuming processed foods.

28 families were asked to add whole almonds or almond butter to their diet for three weeks. The adults added 1.5 ounces of whole almonds or the equivalent in almond butter each day, and the children added half an ounce of whole almonds or an equal amount of almond butter each day.

The study concluded that parents and children were replacing salty and processed foods with whole almonds.

Almonds have many health benefits in nut form and almond paste form. They help weight loss by stabilizing blood sugar levels due to their high carbohydrate and protein content. Every four whole almonds provide one gram of protein.

Just one serving of almonds provides 50 percent of the daily requirement for biotin which supports healthy metabolism, helps balance blood sugar levels, maintains healthy hair, skin, and nails, protects brain function, helps maintain a healthy heart and supports thyroid and adrenal function. Almonds also provide 30 percent of the daily requirement for manganese required for proper functioning of the thyroid gland and hormonal synthesis. Manganese also helps absorb other vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, and magnesium. Almonds also provide 40 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin E which is known for its protection of the heart and against environmental toxins, diabetes and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

As a side note: 90 percent of the antioxidants in almonds are actually found in their skin which include flavonoids and phenolic acid antioxidants. Therefore, it is important to opt for unshelled almonds as opposed to the blanched ones, and when you buy almond butter, a better option would be a whole almond paste. Their color is darker than the creamy blanched almond paste.

Raw macadamia nuts provide healthy fats with little carbohydrate and protein content. Macadamia nuts have high amounts of vitamin B1 (Thiamine) which plays a major role in maintaining a healthy nervous system and heart function. Macadamia nuts also are rich in magnesium which supports muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, maintains bone density, regulate blood sugar levels and promote normal blood pressure. Macadamias are also rich in manganese. Just one serving of macadamia nuts provides 100 percent of the daily requirement for manganese and 23 percent of the recommended daily value of thiamin, and 40 percent of the recommended daily value for magnesium.

Macadamia nuts are also rich in fiber.

Moreover, about 60 percent of the fatty acid in macadamia is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid which is associated with decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and this supports arterial integrity.

Dried Fruits:

Dried fruits have a higher energy density than when in the form of fresh fruit, meaning they have more calories per serving than fresh fruit, but if you eat them in moderation, they provide some excellent health and pleasure benefits.

1. Higher amounts of fiber: Dried fruits contain more fiber than the same-sized serving of their fresh fruit counterparts. Fiber is necessary for waste disposal from our bodies and keeps our digestive system functioning well. For example, dried apricots, contain 6.5 grams of fiber per cup, while fresh apricots contain just 3.1 grams of fiber. A cup of raisins contains 5.4 grams of fiber compared to 1.4 grams for seedless grapes.

Fiber also helps prevent heart disease by helping in the removal of plaque from the arteries. Fiber reduces the risk for obesity by helping the body function better and helps decrease the possibility of bowel cancer by increasing the good bacteria in the gut.

2. Higher concentrations of antioxidants: Dried fruits are an excellent source of certain antioxidants. For example, plant polyphenols which are antioxidants that are more abundant in dried fruits like dates and figs than in fresh fruits. These plant polyphenols have been found to fight heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer and degenerative diseases of the brain by possible reduction of inflammation and down-regulation of oxidative LDL.

Plant polyphenol donates hydrogen and thereby have antioxidant properties to scavenge free radicals which must be continually removed from cells to maintain healthy metabolic function.

3. Higher nutrient density: Because most of the water is extracted from dried fruits, their nutrients are more condensed into a small package. It’s easier to eat more than one dried apple than to eat more than one fresh apple. Dried fruits like apricots, raisins, prunes and figs contain high amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin E, niacin, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

4. Fat and Energy: Dried fruits contain little to no fat. But include a significant amount of energy in the form of calories per serving, making them a great source of energy before a workout. However, even though they may have a higher amount of calories than fresh fruit, they may be eaten in moderation even when trying to lose weight due to the benefits of their high fiber content.

Are they natural?

The only thing to watch out for is whether the dried fruit you are about to consume is natural or not. To ensure that the dried fruit you choose to consume is without additives, check the label and look out for the following additives:

  • E100-199 unnatural food colorings which have been found to increase risk for ADHD, allergies, and headaches
  • E220-228, E280-283 synthetic preservatives that are used to make the foods colors stronger and to give the fruit a longer shelf life as well as disinfecting the fruit.
  • E905 used to make the fruit shiny and thus making it seem fresher than it really is.
  • Sugar used to make the fruit more flavorsome and also as a preservative.

When you buy dried fruit in you local health food store or the farmers market, check the ingredients. Usually, natural dried fruit will have a dull color but a much tastier flavor in comparison with dried fruit with additives.

You can also make your own dried fruit by thinly slicing fresh organic fruit of your choice and placing the slices neatly on a glass oven proof dish/tray, and putting them in the oven for about 1.5-2 hours on turbo heat at 50? or 120? while leaving the oven door slightly open.

This way you ensure you and your kids get the best possible snacks.

So how much should we eat of these two healthy snacks and when?

During the day I recommend eating dried fruit separately to other foods so that there will be no competition for specific antioxidants to enter the cells via insulin. If dried fruits are consumed along with carbohydrates, the high glucose levels interfere with the uptake of antioxidants into cells.

Dried fruits can be consumed after 2 hours after any meal and may be consumed along with nuts.

  • Eating nuts at least five times per week was associated with a 29 percent drop in mortality risk from heart disease, and an 11 percent drop in mortality risk from cancer.
  • Even those who ate nuts only occasionally — less than once a week — had a 7 percent reduction in mortality.
  • Eating two dried fruit per day provides the benefits of increased fiber and antioxidants.
  • Eat nuts and dried fruits in between larger meals as nutritious snacks.
  • Keep 1.5-2 hours after eating carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, etc.) in a meal before eating dried fruit to ensure maximum antioxidant uptake into the cells and to prevent the fructose in the fruit from going mainly towards the formation of fat in the liver.

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