Why David Gillespie’s ideas about nuts are, well, nuts
The cover of David Gillespie’s latest book the Eat Real Food Cookbook tells us that this is a complete guide to ‘permanent weight loss and disease prevention’ – so why does it suggest being cautious about eating nuts, a food that’s linked to so many health benefits… including weight management and disease prevention?
“Seeds and nuts are not a critical part of our diet and should be consumed sparingly, especially seeds,” Gillespie writes.
Has he somehow missed all those research papers released over the last decade or so that have found nuts reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, or the new study published in the British Journal of Cancer in June that linked frequent nut consumption with a 34 per cent lower risk of death after a diagnosis of prostate cancer? There’s also emerging research that found almonds and pistachios increase the numbers of healthy microbes in the gut – the fibre in nuts is thought to act as prebiotic that feeds healthy gut bacteria.
Gillespie, the author of Toxic Oils, argues caution with nuts and seeds because they contain polyunsaturated omega-6 fats – and our diets have become overloaded with these fats because of the widespread use of cheap seed oils such as cottonseed oil and sunflower oil in the food industry.
It is the same sort of argument as the one that says to be wary of eating fruit because it contains sugar. It can’t see the distinction between eating manufactured food high in added sugar and low in nutrients and eating a banana, a whole food that contains fibre and minerals like potassium and magnesium along with the sugar.
“It’s important to remember that we eat food not just nutrients. There’s a difference between eating processed vegetable oils and processed foods high in omega- 6 fats and consuming omega- 6 fats from a whole food like nuts and seeds,” says Dr Kate Marsh, an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and diabetes educator based in Sydney. “These foods contain plant protein, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and a combination of different fats – but mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated with only small amounts of saturated fats and no trans fats.
“There’s now a strong body of evidence linking nut consumption to a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”
Omega-6 is one of two types of polyunsaturated fats we get from food – the other is omega-3 fats found in fish and some plant foods. It’s true that our diet can be skewed towards omega- 6 fats because of the abundance of vegetable oil in processed food and that there’s evidence that a better balance of these polyunsaturated fats might help with some inflammatory conditions including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, Marsh adds.
But the key to improving the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the diet isn’t shunning nuts and seeds, she says – it’s eating less processed food and eating more whole foods including foods containing omega-3 fats.
“These fats are only in a narrow range of foods so for people who don’t eat fish I recommend eating chia seeds or flax seeds which contain omega-3 fats. Walnuts and soy foods also have small amounts and there are also omega-3 eggs from chickens fed a diet enriched with omega-3 fats. Using olive oil – a monounsaturated fat – in place of polyunsaturated vegetable oils will also help improve the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats,” she says.
As in his previous books, Gillespie (a lawyer, not a nutritionist) recommends using saturated fats for cooking – including animal fats like lard and duck fat, coconut oil, butter and ghee – although to his credit he also includes monounsaturated oils like olive, macadamia and avocado.
But although he promotes saturated fats as good fats, studies generally show that replacing saturated fat with a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat is heart healthy, Kate Marsh points out.
The latest of these – a large study of 126, 233 people is from the Harvard T.J. Chan School of Public Health where nutrition scientists (not lawyers) found that polyunsaturated fats including both omega-6 and omega-3 fats were linked to a lower risk of premature death.
People who replaced saturated fats (found in foods like lard, butter and red meat) with unsaturated fats – especially polyunsaturated fats – had a significantly lower risk of death over all, as well as a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease and respiratory disease compared with those who maintained high intakes of saturated fats, according to the School of Public Health.
The Eat Real Food Cookbook by David Gillespie is published by Macmillan, Rrp $39.99
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