By Dr. Marc Bubbs, ND
When I see clients in clinical practice, I always ask them to walk me through what they eat in a typical day. Inevitably, they will often tell me they have a healthy snack – a handful of nuts – at some point in the day. There is a wealth of scientific evidence showing that nuts are associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease, improvements in cholesterol levels, and reductions in overall mortality. These all sounds like very positive benefits, so what is the problem? You can get too much of a good things, let’s take a look at how eating too many nuts or not the right kind may not be the best choice for your health, performance and weight loss goals.
First, in the modern day diet, we consume much greater amounts of omega-6 essential fats compared to omega-3 essential fats. The ideal ratio of optimal omega-6 to omega-3 intake is about 3:1 to 1:1, as discovered by analyzing the diets of our Paleolithic ‘hunter-gatherer’ ancestors. Unfortunately, the abundance of convenience and processed foods around us – at coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, and grocery stores – has resulted in our current levels ranging between 15:1 to 20:1. That is a major difference! These excess omega-6 oils sneak their way into even the healthiest diets, as corn oil and various vegetable oils are rampant in the food chain. The drawback from consuming too many omega-6 fats is that they are pro-inflammatory in nature, predisposing you to increased risk of developing chronic diseases and exacerbates conditions like joints pain and weight gain. Unfortunately, most nuts are very high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats.
Next, if you are trying to lose weight then curbing your nut intake can make a big difference in overcoming slow progress. For example, eating almonds can confer many important health benefits, but they are 66% monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which are also obtained from olive oil and avocadoes. Therefore, you may be getting more than enough MUFAs (and calories), especially since this type of fat is not essential and can be made by the body. Almonds contain no omega-3 fats and 25% omega-6 fats, which means they could be throwing off your omega-6:omega-3 ratio even further.
As well, it’s also very difficult to snack on only a few nuts. No doubt this is where the old saying… ‘It’s like eating peanuts’ came from, describing a behaviour that is highly addictive. If you are currently overweight then new research tells us that your inflammatory levels are also likely elevated, meaning adding more pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats may not help your weight loss goals.
Does this mean you shouldn’t eat nuts? Absolutely not, you just need to re-assess your intake. The nuts with the best ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats are walnuts and macadamia nuts, with ratios of 4.2 and 6.3 respectively. Compare this to the next best on the list; pecans at 21, pine nuts at 31, and cashews at 47 and you can see how quickly the ratio shifts. Try including some walnuts at breakfast or add in macadamia nuts as a mid-afternoon snack. Also, a simple blood test can measure your levels of omega-3 fats to determine what your ideal ratio should be.
If weight loss, pain-free joints or better health is your goal then start shifting your omega-6 fat intake for more beneficial omega-3 fats. Start by reducing your nut intake or shifting over to walnuts and macadamia nuts to restore optimal balance in the boy. Hopefully this helps in your quest for weight loss, performance, and better health!
Dr. Marc Bubbs N.D. has been working with athletes and active people for almost a decade. As a Naturopathic Doctor and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Marc focuses on the integration of health and exercise, believing that movement is the best medicine. He focuses on a holistic approach, using a combination of traditional Eastern and cutting-edge Western medicine to meet his client’s health and performance goals. Marc spent several years working in London, England as a personal trainer and strength coach for business executives and competitive athletes. He currently works as a sports medical consultant at Laylor Performance Systems and Canada Basketball.