In Part 2 of the anti-cancer diet, I briefly mentioned using nuts as a way to spruce up your salads. In this blog, I’ll share in more detail the benefits of nuts in maintaining an anti-cancer diet.
Nuts are loaded with bioavailable active compounds that impact the cellular processes involved in cancer cell development and growth. Nuts are full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fatty acids, fiber and phytochemicals that have demonstrated anti-cancer properties.
Almonds – Almonds boast an impressive nutrient profile and contain fiber, protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and other vitamins. They are loaded with bioactive compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which protect against inflammation, aging and diseases like cancer. Please note that most of these compounds are concentrated on the brown layer of the skin, so skip the blanched (skinless) almonds and go for the roasted whole nut. Most of the almonds produced in the US are by law treated or pasteurized – that includes the raw ones. So be careful when choosing – European sources can be found that are untreated. Big Tree Organic has a good supply.
Cashews – Cashews are not a nut but actually a kidney-shaped seed sourced from the cashew tree. They are rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, protein and a good source of copper, magnesium and manganese – minerals important for energy production, brain health, immunity and bone health. Cashews also contain polyphenols and carotenoids which are potent for battling oxidative cell damage. This study has shown that roasting the cashews increased the phenolic content thus boosting its antioxidant activity.
Macadamias – Macadamia nuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber yet low in carbs and sugar. Additionally, these nuts have some of the highest flavonoid and tocotrienols levels of all tree nuts. These phytochemicals are associated with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, antiviral and chemo-preventive actions, all of which are known to affect the initiation and progression of diseases like cancer.
Peanuts – Peanuts have gotten such a bad rap recently – it’s still my favorite nut (actually it’s a legume like beans, lentils and peas). Peanuts contain resveratrol (as do grapes) which have been shown to have antiplatelet, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits. If you are a peanut fan like me and have no allergies, only buy peanuts that have been tested for aflatoxin (a cancer-causing toxic compound that is prone to occur in peanuts, other legumes, seeds, corn, and wheat). Also Valencia peanuts which come from New Mexico where the climate is dry is known to have the least amount of aflatoxin. If you’re not sure, it’s best to avoid them.
Pecans – In addition to healthy fats, B-complex groups of vitamins, folates and fiber, these nuts protect the body from cancer due to the anti-proliferative properties of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is a phenolic anti-oxidant and its benefits have been studied for cancer, chronic inflammation and other diseases.
Pine nuts – Here’s another misnomer. Pine nuts are not actually a nut but they are seeds harvested from certain types of pine cones. Pine nuts are packed with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat and are high in magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and K. This study showed that the consumption of pine nuts (along with other nuts) was associated with reduced colon cancer rates. Remember that raw pine nuts need to be consumed within a few months of purchase because the unsaturated fats will go rancid quickly. If you buy in bulk to save money, make sure to put them in the freezer and take out small amounts as you consume them. Also, roasted pine nuts have a longer shelf life than raw so keep that in mind as you consider what type to buy.
Pistachios – Pistachios are rich in bioactive compounds such as B vitamins, tocopherols, polyphenols and dietary fiber, which has been shown in this study to reduce the risk of colon cancer. It also has high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and potassium. Most roasted pistachios have a lot of added salt so choose carefully so as to not overdo it on the sodium intake.
Walnuts – Walnuts are unique in several ways and have been studied more extensively than other nuts regarding cancer prevention. Emerging research shows potential for walnuts to contribute to a cancer-preventive diet through several compounds possibly working together. Ellagitannins, melatonin and gamma-tocopherol may each work through different paths to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and gene expression that can lead to cancer. Eating walnuts may also change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer: A team of researchers found that mice that ate 7-10.5 percent of their total calories as walnuts developed fewer colon cancers.
Again, only choose high quality, organic nuts when possible and make sure they are fresh. Here are some brands you can purchase at your local Whole Foods or order online.