Nibbling for health
Genevieve Roberts on the multiple benefits of eating nuts

TONY Blair munches through a daily supply of pistachios and Dame Kelly gold. Nuts, it seems, are becoming Britainís nibble of choice, while sales of crisps, crackers and poppadums are declining, as people react to fears of obesity.

Not only are nuts healthier and more natural than processed, deep-fried snacks, nutritionists also say they are natural wonder drugs that can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, heart disease and male infertility, as well as delay signs of ageing.
After winning the 800m and 1,500m events in Athens, Dame Kelly confided: "Cashew nuts are my little secret." She claimed they helped to accelerate her powers of recovery so that her body was well prepared for its next test of speed and endurance. But it is not just Olympic athletes and prime ministers who benefit from the proteins, vitamins and minerals abundant in nuts.

Ursula Arens, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietetic Association, says, "Nuts are high in fat, but it is healthy fat because it is unsaturated. They should not be condemned as a snack food due to their high fat content. For the majority of people who are not overweight or on a diet, they are as useful as cheese in maintaining a balanced diet, because they contain high levels of protein. They are also rich in vitamin E.

"Brazil nuts are uniquely high in selenium, a nutrient needed by a potent antioxidant enzyme in the body. The antioxidant properties reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, according to population data." Selenium is a trace mineral found in the soil. It is absolutely essential for a healthy immune system, fertility and thyroid metabolism, but the levels in British soil have become so low over the past few decades, due to intensive farming methods, that the amounts getting into the food chain have been adversely affected.

Brazil nuts were linked last year with a reduced risk of breast cancer in some women by scientists at the University of Illinois. They claim selenium interacts with a natural body chemical to offer protection against the disease.
Many more studies have pointed to the long-term health benefits of eating nuts. One showed that regular consumption could cut the risk of bladder cancer in half because of their high vitamin E content. Professor John Radcliffe, a nutrition researcher at Texas Womanís University, surveyed 10,000 people and found that those who consumed the highest amount of vitamin E had a 50 per cent lower incidence of bladder cancer.

A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that people who replaced half the fat in their daily diets with almonds experienced a drop in harmful LDL cholesterol of six per cent over six weeks.

Despite the high fat and calorie content of nuts, which is similar to the levels in crisps, there is evidence to suggest that they can actually help with weight loss. The reason is their high protein content, which creates a feeling of satiety.

"The fat content in nuts is high, but it is monounsaturated so in fact protects against heart disease.They can reduce cholesterol and prevent damage to arteries. This includes all types of nuts, including peanuts, which are technically legumes." Eating nuts may also help to delay the ageing process. Monica Grenfell, a nutritionist and author of Fabulous in a Fortnight, says: "Nuts are good for your looks. Almonds, particularly, are high in vitamin E, which prevents wrinkles and influences how you age. They should be eaten as part of a balanced diet, incorporated with five fruit and vegetables a day. "Almonds and pistachios are high in calcium, which is particularly important for vegans or people who cannot eat dairy products.

ó The Independent