There is an increasing body of evidence to show the benefits of adding edible seeds (including grains, beans, nuts and cocoa) to diets. By Dr Michael Lim

IN AN increasingly informed and affluent society, there is a relentless pursuit of the ultimate healthy diet. For a long time, diet has been planned on the basis of the amount of fat, carbohydrate or protein in the food. A plethora of diets have evolved with varying adjustments in these food groups, the main aim being to achieve a reduction in body fat and prevention of obesity and its adverse consequences. Some diets have focused on reducing fat consumption but reduction in fat consumption in the USA did not reduce obesity and diabetes rates. Over the years, there is an increasing body of evidence to show the benefits of adding edible seeds (including grains, beans, nuts and cocoa) to diets.

Good fats and bad fats

Cholesterol elevation has been inextricably linked to heart artery blockage, heart attacks and strokes. Much of the cholesterol produced in the body is derived from diet but not from the consumption of cholesterol. Instead, it has been documented that excessive consumption of saturated fatty acids (SFA) leads to an increase in cholesterol levels and SFA forms the largest food component in the diet that contributes towards cholesterol production. SFA has been considered a “bad” fat as opposed to monosaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which are considered as “good” fats.

Snacking on nuts and chocolate may actually be beneficial for health. Nuts are good sources of fat varying from about half to two-thirds of them being fat content, mostly “good” fat or PUFA. Some nuts such as walnuts are particularly high in PUFA. Dark chocolate (from cocoa) has about one third fat content and while its fat is mainly SFA, the SFA present in chocolate is stearic acid which, unlike the “bad” type of SFA or “short chain” SFA, is not associated with cholesterol elevation. In addition, both nuts and chocolate have high energy content but the high energy consumption is not translated into obesity as they are both able to produce an effective satiation response, that is, appetite is satisfied and over consumption is avoided.

Seeds for good heart health

There is an accumulating body of evidence that consuming edible seeds may mean more than just being healthy and may lead to a lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes mellitus.

Enjoying your morning breakfast of whole grain meal will allow you to reap the benefits of lower risk of heart disease and reduction in diabetes. An analysis of the combined data from 45 prospective studies by Ye published in 2012 in the Journal of Nutrition, demonstrated that those who took an average of 48-80g of whole grains per day compared to those who rarely or never consume whole grains had a 21 per cent reduction in risk of heart disease and a 26 per cent reduction in diabetes. Whole grains comprise mainly of three components, namely germ, bran, and endosperm. The data seems to suggest the beneficial effect of eating grains was stronger for bran.

As you reach out for your favourite pack of nuts, you may also be decreasing your heart attack and stroke risk. Most randomised control trials show that nut consumption is associated with a reduction in bad cholesterol. More recently, a large Spanish study, the PREDIMED Study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year, demonstrated that those who had a high risk of heart attacks but were not yet diagnosed to have heart disease, who consumed 30g of mixed nuts (walnuts, hazel nuts and almonds) or extra virgin olive oil (one litre/week) daily for a median of about five years, when compared to a control group, had a 30 per cent reduction in heart attacks, stroke and related deaths. When the group taking nuts was analysed separately, the stroke risk reduction was even more pronounced at 49 per cent.

Those who love their beans during breakfast can take heart that bean consumption four times or more per week also appears to be associated with a comparable 22 per cent reduction in heart attack risk. However, the effect on diabetes is less pronounced.

We can now savour that rich chocolate dessert without any guilt. Chocolate consumption has been shown to be beneficial in reducing heart attack and stroke risks in multiple studies. In some studies, there was also a beneficial trend seen for blood pressure, cholesterol and even diabetes.

Seeds for diabetics

Type 2 diabetics (diabetics who do not require insulin) seem to benefit from edible seed consumption. The combined data analysis by Ye published in 2012 in the Journal of Nutrition demonstrated a significant reduction in diabetes in those who consumed whole grain. Though the studies on beans, nuts and chocolate have not shown a definite reduction in diabetes, they have been shown to able to blunt the glucose rise when consumed with a high sugar diet.

Enjoy your grains and nuts

Current research data show that it is not too difficult to enjoy a healthy diet. Have a hearty breakfast of whole grains and baked beans. Get a glass of soybean to go with your lunch. When you need to snack in between meals, reach out for your pack of nuts instead of the potato chips. Remember to end your dinner with dark chocolate. And yes, for the coffee bean lovers, sipping an average of four cups of decaffeinated coffee a day can actually reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Who says you cannot enjoy your food and remain