Why eat nuts?
Nuts are often viewed cautiously by those on a fitness regime due to their high fat content, but their cardioprotective and other health benefits make them an important component of any diet.
The risks of coronary heart disease and non-fatal myocardial infarction drastically reduce in those who eat nuts on a regular basis, regular being nearly every day rather than once a week.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Nuts are perfect for those on a paleo or vegan diet, as they contain fibre, which encourages healthy bowel function and high levels of protein and fat, which promote satiety.
They have a low glycaemic load, are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which offer an array of health-giving properties.
How to buy them
It goes without saying that all nuts should be raw and organic and preferably unshelled when bought. Dry or honey-roasted nuts should be avoided as the commercial nut roasting process often involves deep frying in a saturated fat, which is linked with high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Nuts cooked at a high temperature will lose most of their health benefits as the natural oils will be damaged. Store them in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge and if you chop nuts, always do it just before you eat them or the fats they contain will oxidise and some health benefit will be lost.
How you can use nuts: butter, milk and salads!
All nuts can be made into delicious butters in a blender or food processor. I like to add a spoon of coconut oil and some cinnamon to add a bit of flavour.
It’s also very easy to make nut milk! It’s important to soak nuts, at least for a couple of hours before you make milk or eat them to remove any toxic substances or nutritional inhibitors such as phytates, polyphenols, goitrogens and enzyme inhibitors. If you soak nuts overnight, then the nut milk you make won’t last very long, a couple of days at the most.
To make a litre of nut milk, use 4 tablespoons soaked nuts with a litre of water, blend in a Vitamix or blender and strain through a muslin cloth (a nut bag or a pair of clean tights!). You can also chop nuts to add a bit of texture and flavour to salads.
How many is too many?
With all nuts, look at how many you are eating! Just because a food high in fat is healthy doesn’t mean it won’t make you put on weight if you eat it in excess. I would classify a serving as a handful, about 25-30g, which is not that many. Instead of eating a whole bag in one go, try and vary your snacks and include kale chips, celery sticks, carrots or apples to your regime.
Another thing to note is that most nuts contain high levels of l-arginine, an amino acid which positively impacts hypertension as it converts to nitric oxide, allowing blood vessels to relax. L-arginine is not good in high levels for those that have the herpes virus and have a tendency to suffer frequent outbreaks so during breakout time, try and keep your high arginine foods to a minimum.
Top nuts for health
Walnuts are a wonderful source of healthy monounsaturated fats (15% approximately) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an important omega 3 fat. Like most nuts, walnuts have cardioprotective effects and may help to modulate cholesterol levels. It has one of the lower omega 6:omega 3 ratios than other foods (4:1), which has anti-inflammatory effects.
Walnuts are an excellent source of copper and manganese, co-factors in a number of enzymes crucial for fighting free radicals. A useful phytonutrient present in walnuts is ellagic acid which works to protect cells from free radical damage, detoxifies cancer-causing agents and prevents replication of cancer cells. Walnuts also contain tryptophan, a mood-enhancing amino acid.
I’m a bit cautious with almonds as so many people overuse them and develop an antigenic IgG food intolerance to them. I tend to tell people to rotate their nuts and nut milks and not lean too heavily on almond.
However, almonds, have a high nutritional value and contain lots of vitamin B2 (thiamine) required for energy production, tryptophan, magnesium, manganese, copper and phosphorus. They are also an excellent source of fibre, vitamin E and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
They also have a low glycaemic load which help lower surges in insulin and blood sugar levels and may further reduce the glycaemic load of carbohydrates when eaten together, which makes eating toast and almond-butter much healthier than toast and jam. These surges may eventually lead to diabesity and other chronic health disease.
Brazils are very nutrient-dense but are also very large so you don’t have to eat many to get the health benefits. One serving of brazil nuts (25-30g, about 6 nuts) contains a whopping 700% RDA of selenium, an antioxidant trace mineral required for a healthy thyroid and optimum immune system function.
They also contain high levels of iron, calcium, magnesium and copper, minerals which are all required for bone, connective tissue and blood health.
One ounce of Brazil nuts contains 185 calories, 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrates. Brazil nuts provide 2 grams of fibre per 1 ounce serving, which is 8 percent of the recommended daily allowance, or RDA, as per U.S.
Department of Agriculture guidelines based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. They provide 5 percent of the RDA for calcium and 4 percent for iron and other important vitamins and minerals. They are very high in unsaturated and saturated fats, the highest amount of saturated fat of any other nut so stick to no more than one serving a day.
76% of the fat found in cashew nuts is oleic acid, the same fat found in olive oil which is revered for its beneficial health effects on the cardiovascular system. They are also a good source of copper, tryptophan, and phytosterols, which block cholesterol absorption in the body.
Cashews, like almonds, contain about 75 milligrams of magnesium per serving. Magnesium is essential for a number of different body processes, including energy production, maintaining normal nerve and muscle function and regulating heart rhythm. It also plays a role in maintaining a strong immune system and keeping bones healthy.
Pecans have highest antioxidant score amongst nuts, which help to reduce cancer and other chronic disease risk. They also contain over 19 vitamins and minerals, including folic acid and magnesium.
Are not on this list because they are actually a legume, contain aflatoxins (a toxic mould substance) and goitrogenic substances which inhibit thyroid function. They are also usually heavily salted and fried. Avoid peanuts.