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Nuts & Fats

Do nuts contain omega 3s – is there a difference between plant and marine omega 3s?

Polyunsaturated fats can be divided into two types: omega-6 fatty acids (Linoleic acid, LA) and omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fats can be further divided into short chain omega-3s, from plants (Alpha-Linolenic acid, ALA) and long chain omega-3s, from seafood, Australian pasture-fed meat, eggs and other fortified foods (Eicosopentanoic acid, EPA and Docosahexanoic acid DHA).

Some polyunsaturated fats are considered essential fatty acids, meaning they cannot be made in the body and therefore must be obtained from the diet. These are the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA), and the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The longer chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA can be made in the body from ALA. However, the body is not efficient at doing this, and so it is recommended to obtain EPA and DHA from the diet.

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, which is especially important during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in newborn babies (1).

Long-chain omega-3s, such as those in seafood and fish oil, exert anti-inflammatory effects and it is recommended to increase their presence in the diet. Walnuts and to a lesser extent pecans, hazelnuts and macadamias, contain the plant omega-3s, ALA (2). ALA has an important heart health role. Just a 30g serve of walnuts can provide 100% of your daily ALA needs.

1) Essentials of human nutrition 2007. Oxford University Press, 3rd Edition. Mann J and Truswell AS (Eds).
2) Nuts for Life. Nutrient Composition of Tree Nuts. 2016.

Last Update September 2016

Do nuts contain cholesterol?

Cholesterol is made in the liver of animals, so only animal products contain cholesterol. You won't find cholesterol in any plant food.

However, nuts are an excellent source of polyunsatured and monounsaturated fats - the good fats - which, as part of a balanced diet, can help manage blood cholesterol.

Last Update September 2016

Trans fat – what is it and do nuts contain it?

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat, but due to their unusual structure they behave more like a saturated fat in the body. They are found naturally in small amounts 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, unlike those in the USA. Nuts are virtually free of trans fat

Trans fats increase the level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and reduce HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), increasing heart disease risk (1).

1) Denke MA. Dietary fats, fatty acids, and their effects on lipoproteins. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2006;8(6):466–471.

Last Update September 2016

Isn’t saturated fat bad for you – don’t nuts contain saturated fat?

Saturated fats are often referred to as ‘bad fats’ – they are not considered essential for good health, and have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and total cholesterol levels in the body. Saturated fat is a type of fat that is solid at room temperature. It is mainly found in animal products but can be found in some plant sources. Nuts contain a small proportion of saturated fat - but contain much higher amounts of the healthy unsaturated fats (1). In fact, it's these unsaturated fats which are considered one of the main reasons why nut eaters have less heart disease than those who never eat nuts (5).A daily handful of nuts can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 to 50% (2-6).

1) Nuts For Life. Nutrient Composition of Tree Nuts. 2016.
2) Albert CM et al. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physician’s Health Study. Arch Intern Med 2002;162(12):1382-7.
3) Ellsworth JL et al. Frequent nut intake and risk of death from coronary heart disease and all causes in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease 2001;11(6):372-7.
4) Hu FB et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal 1998;317(7169):1341-5.
5) Fraser GE et al. A possible protective effect of nut consumption on risk of coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med 1991; 152: 1416-24.
6) Blomhoff R. et al. Health benefits of nuts: potential role of antioxidants. Brit J Nutr 2007;96(SupplS2):S52-S60.

Last Update September 2016

What fats do nuts contain?

Any food that contains fat contains all three types of fat – saturated (bad), monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (good fats) - the amount of each type is different for different foods. Nuts are a good source of the healthy or good fats - polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, with much lower proportions of saturated fats and virtually no trans fats. The fat profile of each nuts varies, so including a variety of nuts in your diet is a smart choice and ensures you have a good balance of healthy fats.

Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans and pistachios are higher in monounsaturated fats; whereas Brazil nuts, pine nuts and walnuts have more polyunsaturated fats (1).

Walnuts are one of the few plant foods that also contain an essential polyunsaturated fat - a plant omega-3 fat called Alpha Linolenic Acid or ALA, with smaller amounts found in pecans, hazelnuts and macadamias (1). 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 it still has important heart health functions (2).

Nuts are a healthy high-fat food in a fat-phobic world. It’s time we moved on from the low total fat diet mantra of the 1980s-90s to eating a lower saturated fat diet. We should be eating foods high in healthy fats such as nuts, avocados and fish, and use healthy cooking oils. We should limit or avoid foods high in saturated fats which can raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease (3).

1) Nuts For Life. Nutrient Composition of Tree Nuts. 2016.
2) De Lorgeril M et al. Alpha-linolenic acid and coronary heart disease. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2004;14(3):162-9.
3) National Heart Foundation 2009. Q & A: Dietary fats, dietary cholesterol and heart health. Accessed 22/12/10.

Last Update September 2016