a1 Department of Physiological Sciences II, Faculty of Medicine, IDIBELL, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
a2 Lipid Clinic, Hospital Clínic, IDIBAPS, Barcelona, Spain
Nuts contain significant amounts of essential micronutrients that are associated with an improved health status when consumed at doses beyond those necessary to prevent deficiency states. Nuts do not contain cholesterol, but they are rich in chemically related phytosterols, a class of compounds that interfere with intestinal cholesterol absorption and thus help lower blood cholesterol. Nuts also contain folate, a B-vitamin necessary for normal cellular function that plays an important role in detoxifying homocysteine, a sulphur-containing amino acid with atherothrombotic properties that accumulates in plasma when folate status is subnormal. Compared to other common foodstuffs, nuts have an optimal nutritional density with respect to healthy minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Like that of most vegetables, the sodium content of nuts is very low. A high intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium, together with a low sodium intake, is associated with protection against bone demineralisation, arterial hypertension, insulin resistance, and overall cardiovascular risk. Phytosterols might justify part of the cholesterol-lowering effect of nut intake beyond that attributable to fatty acid exchange, while the mineral richness of nuts probably contributes to the prevention of diabetes and coronary heart disease observed in epidemiological studies in association with frequent nut consumption.