Nuts and seeds are important components of a healthy diet. But if you have diverticula — little pouchlike structures that sometimes form in the muscular wall of the colon and bulge outward — you may worry about nuts or seeds getting stuck in those little pockets, which can cause a painful infection called diverticulitis.
Take heart. While it was once believed that nut and seed consumption could lead to diverticulitis, the link is unproven.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, which is important for gut health and keeping you regular.
How much fiber do you need daily? If you’re over 50, the Institute of Medicine recommends 21 grams per day for women and 30 grams per day for men. Between ages 19 and 50, women should aim for 25 grams of fiber daily and men should aim for 38 grams.
Eating nuts and seeds can help you reach those goals while also providing other benefits.
What’s in a nut?
Nuts are flavorful little packages of healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and other nutrients. For example, peanuts and pecans contain lots of B vitamins; almonds are rich in calcium and vitamin E; walnuts have lots of folate, vitamin E, and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid). And all nuts have magnesium.
“In just a handful of nuts, which is about an ounce or a quarter of a cup, you get a lot of bang for the buck. They contain anywhere from 3 to 7 grams of protein per ounce, 1 to 3 grams of fiber, and 160 to 200 calories,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Tiny little seeds are also loaded with great big benefits. In one tablespoon of chia seeds, for example, you’ll get 2 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 78 milligrams of calcium. A tablespoon of flaxseed has 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Hemp seeds contain only 1 gram of fiber in a tablespoon, but 10 grams of protein.
“Seeds have mostly healthy fats, some fiber, and about 150 calories per ounce. And they do have protein, about 5 to 9 grams per ounce,” McManus notes. “Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also good sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, with two or three times the ALA of walnuts.”
Add them to your diet
You may feel overwhelmed by the many nut and seed choices. But they’re all good for health. Great choices include:
- Brazil nuts
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- pine nuts
- pumpkin seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
Note: Avoid nuts and seeds with added sugar and chocolate. Salted nuts are okay, as long as you eat less than an ounce. “For 1 ounce of most nuts, the sodium content is less than 100 milligrams,” McManus says.
How much should you eat?
You can overdo it when it comes to nut and seeds consumption. “If you eat more than one or two handfuls of nuts per day, you’re adding extra calories — maybe too many — that can take the place of other healthy foods and add weight,” McManus warns.
Think in terms of small portions. Have a handful of nuts or seeds for a snack. Or add a few nuts and seeds to meals throughout the day.
Sprinkle nuts or seeds into salads, sauces, vegetables, or whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa. “Make a cashew or pine nut pesto,” suggests McManus. “Add nuts or seeds to hot cereal or yogurt. Put nuts and seeds in a stir-fry. Or include some nut flour in baking recipes.”
Without much effort, you’ll add extra fiber to your diet and contribute to a happier, healthier gut.