December 23rd, 2011
Besides being a tasty snack, some nuts provide a surprisingly healthy combination of liver-protective substances.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
When it comes to questioning their healthfulness, nuts are not always portrayed in a positive light. This perception is largely due to the popularity of honey-roasted snacks and other nut products prepared with lots of additional fat, sugar and salt. However, nuts in their raw form are actually a kind of super food – protein-dense morsels loaded with nutritious substances. Because of the additional nutritional needs of a compromised liver, individuals living with liver disease are typically advised to include nuts in their diet.
Nuts are an excellent natural food, perfectly adapted to our taste and ability to pick, dry, store and crack. Because they have hard shells and are picked off large trees with deep roots, nuts are relatively well protected from pesticides and environmental pollution. Corresponding to pesticides and pollution, the liver is the organ responsible for neutralizing any toxins found in the bloodstream. For someone with liver disease, this function may be impaired. To ease the stress of detoxification on the liver, foods with a low level of toxicity, like nuts, are ideal for people with liver disease.
Besides their low risk of toxicity, nuts are highly nutritious, being a good source of protein, high in antioxidants and full of healthful, unsaturated fats:
• Protein is essential for those with a compromised liver because it provides the building blocks for new cells, tissue repair and a functioning immune system.
• Antioxidants are essential for those with a compromised liver because they help neutralize free radicals, factors known to damage liver cells.
• Healthful, unsaturated fats are essential for those with a compromised liver because they help protect against fat accumulation in the liver. In addition, these good fats are essential to build healthy cell membranes around liver cells.
According to a 2009 Loma Linda University study, women who eat nuts weigh less and get more fiber, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium than those who don’t consume nuts. In addition, nut eaters were found to have higher levels of high density lipoproteins (good cholesterol) and lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body) than those who don’t consume nuts. For the purpose of defending against liver disease, high density lipoproteins help protect against fatty liver disease and low levels of C-reactive protein correlate with a reduction of inflammation in the liver (a precursor to liver cell damage).
Four nuts treasured for nourishing liver health include:
1. Brazil Nuts – Brazil nuts are a good source of protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E and selenium. Brazil nuts are one of the most concentrated food sources of selenium, with about 80 micrograms per nut. Selenium is especially valuable to those with liver disease because it is an antioxidant that helps protect against damage to liver cells, mobilizes cancer-fighting cells, strengthens immunity and contributes to tissue elasticity – an essential for healthful liver tissue.
2. Walnuts – Walnuts contain the amino acid arginine, which is necessary to help the liver detoxify ammonia. Walnuts are also high in glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are known to support healthful liver detoxification.
3. Pecans – Pecans have many vitamins and minerals like vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, B vitamins and zinc. Pecans are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. A study published in the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Nutrition found that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of low density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. This finding renders pecans a tasty weapon against fatty liver disease.
4. Almonds – Almonds have as much calcium as milk, and contain magnesium, vitamin E, selenium and lots of fiber. Magnesium is a crucial mineral for blood vessel relaxation, an invaluable component of blood moving smoothly throughout the liver. In addition, almonds reduce surges of blood sugar after meals, a known contributor to fatty liver disease.
What About Peanuts?
Although technically a legume, peanuts are one of America’s most popular snacks. Peanuts are exceptionally healthy because they contain monounsaturated fats, phytosterols, resveratrol, vitamins and minerals. However, there is some conflicting information regarding their benefit to the liver. This is primarily because of peanuts’ potential for being contaminated with aflatoxins, a potent carcinogen produced by certain strains of mold that grow in warm, humid silos. However, aflatoxins can be discouraged by only consuming fresh peanuts, storing them in a dry, cool environment and buying from reputable sources.
Eating nuts and only nuts is not a route towards total health, but substituting raw nuts for less healthful snacks is a liver-friendly dietary change. We know that those with liver disease can influence the course of their illness via the foods they eat. As such, the nutrition packed into Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans and almonds is a tasty ally for protecting and supporting the liver’s well-being.
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