Going nuts for nuts

Can eating tree nuts lower the risk of colon cancer recurrence? Parkway Cancer Centre’s Senior Dietitian Fahma Sunarja weighs in on the claim. An observational study released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology involving 826 patients who had undergone treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer found that eating nuts contributed to a higher rate of survival. Nineteen per cent of these patients consumed approximately 50g of nuts per week and they were observed to have a 42 per cent lower chance of cancer recurrence, and a 57 per cent lower chance of death than patients who did not eat nuts after completion of their cancer treatment. Such studies need to be taken with a pinch of salt as the benefits were not seen in peanuts and it is also not possible to say whether the group of people eating nuts were perhaps more health conscious, better engaged with the health service and might have better lifestyle habits to start with. But before you go out and buy a packet of nuts to munch on, consider the facts.

In a nutshell

According to Parkway Cancer Centre’s Senior Dietitian Fahma Sunarja, most of the fat in nuts is considered healthy fat. Tree nuts, for instance, have a higher content of monounsaturated fat. Healthy amounts of monounsaturated fat can be very beneficial for our health. For example, studies have found that it also decreases risk for heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, monounsaturated fats in tree nuts contribute to alleviating pain and stiffness in people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Still, a word of caution – although nuts contain healthy fat, they are high in calories and consumption should be moderated. Ideally, nuts should be used as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, and dairy products. Besides having copious amounts of good fat, nuts also have omega-3 fatty acids which are known to benefit heart health. All nuts contain fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Vitamin E and L-arginine are found in most nuts and help to prevent plaque formation in the arteries. Some nuts also contain plant sterols, which also aid in lowering blood cholesterol.

How much nuts should I eat?

You can incorporate nuts into your diet by replacing your usual snacks with a serving of nuts. You can also add nuts in home-cooked dishes. However, you could cancel out the health benefits of eating nuts if you eat nuts that have been cooked in oil or covered with honey, sugar or chocolate. People who are allergic to nuts should also take precautions or speak to a doctor first. (Those who are allergic to nuts should, obviously, avoid eating nuts.) The recommended serving size for each type of nut differs, based on their individual nutrient content (see table above).

Should I take nut butters and oils?

If you love having peanut butter, consider making your own. Store-bought nut butters may contain high amounts of sugar and salt that throw off any healthy advantage in consuming nuts. Nut oils are also a good source of healthy nutrients, but they lack the fibre found in whole nuts. Nut oils can be used in salad dressing or cooking. But if overheated, nut oils can become bitter. As with nuts and nut butters, use nut oil in moderation, as it is also high in fat and calories.

The verdict

Nuts are clearly nutrient-dense foods, and can be included in our diets. They can benefit a person’s overall health, and not just prevent colon cancer. The best way to benefit from having nuts is to replace unhealthy snacks or foods with nuts and consume them in moderation.

Per serving of 1oz (28.4g)
Tree nut No. of nuts Energy (kcals)
Cashew 18 157
Pistachio 50 159
Almond 22 163
Hazelnut 21 183
Walnut 14 halves 185
Pine 167 191
Pecan 19 halves 196
Macadamia 10 204

  Written by Charmaine Ng



Tags: cancer diet & nutrition, cancer relapse, healthy food & cooking, reduce cancer risk