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Walnuts and to a lesser extent pecans, hazel nuts and macadamias, contain plant omega-3s.24 But these omega-3s act differently to those found in fish and fish oil supplements.
Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two types: omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids; the omega-3 fats can be further divided into short chain omega-3s (from plants) and long chain omega-3 s (from fish, seafood, Australian pasture-fed meat, eggs and other fortified foods).
Some polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids that must be eaten as they are required for normal growth and development but cannot be made by our body. These include the omega-6 fat linoleic acid (LA), the short chain omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the long chain omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA)
Essential fats play important roles in maintaining cell membranes, regulating many body processes including inflammation and blood clotting, and improving the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K from food. Essential fatty acids are also needed for brain and eye development, so vital during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in newborn babies.9
Cholesterol is made in the liver of animals, so only animal products contain cholesterol.
Trans fats area type of unsaturated fat, but due to their unusual structure behave more like a saturated fat. They are found in small amounts naturally in meat and dairy products but are mainly found as hydrogenated vegetable oils in foods like chips, biscuits, pastries and snack foods. Margarine spreads in Australia are virtually trans fat free.
Trans fats increase the level of LDL cholesterol and reduce HDL cholesterol, increasing heart disease risk.26 Nuts are free of trans fat.
Nuts do contain a small proportion of saturated fat – but the much higher amounts of healthy unsaturated fat found in nuts24 are considered one of the main reasons why nut eaters have less heart disease than those that never eat nuts.4 A handful of nuts on most days can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 to 50%.1-5
Any food that contains fat will have all three types of fat – saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat present but just in different amounts. Nuts are a good source of the healthy fats - polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, with a much lower proportion of saturated fats and no trans fats. The fat profile of nuts varies from one type to another so including a variety of nuts in your diet is the smart choice and ensures you have a good balance of healthy fats.
Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans and pistachios are higher in monounsaturated fats, while Brazil nuts, pine nuts and walnuts have more polyunsaturated fats.24
Walnuts are one of the few plant foods that contain the essential plant omega-3 fat called Alpha Linolenic Acid or ALA, with smaller amounts found in pecans, hazelnuts and macadamias.24 This is particularly important for vegetarians or anyone who doesn’t eat fish or seafood. ALA is not the same as the fish omega 3s DHA and EPA but still has important heart health functions.25
Nuts are a healthy high-fat food in a fat-phobic world. It’s time we moved on from the low fat diet mantra of the 1980s-90s to eating a low saturated fat diet. We must eat healthy fat foods such as nuts, avocados and fish, and use healthy cooking oils but avoid the high saturated fat foods which can raise blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.8