Botanically, tree nuts are dry fruits with one seed in which the ovary wall becomes hard at maturity. “Ready to serve” and “ready to eat”, Nuts have been the part of human civilization since time immemorial.
The health benefits of these tiny crunchy things are well acknowledged. Every night, my mother would soak almonds, peel and give them us to munch next morning. These “natural health capsules” are nothing less than a miracle, a petite powerhouse packed with nutrition and taste both. You can relish them whole (fresh or roasted), chopped as garnishing in desserts or part of a meal, in spreads, salads, stir-fried, oils or commercial preparation, mixed dishes, sauces, pastries, ice creams and baked good. Add them to any dish, they nutty taste perfectly blend with them and enhance its flavor and appearance.
Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, pecans, macadamias and Brazil nuts- energy-laden superb quick fixes to your hunger pangs! Peanut a nut but not a tree nut! It’s a legume sharing nutrient profile same as of tree nuts. Whereas Chestnuts are tree nuts, with a different nutrient profile, they are starchier than other tree nuts, making them more like a grain than a nut. They have a low Glycemic Index, rich in fibre and vitamin C (although much vitamin C is lost during cooking).
Are Nuts truly the Storehouse of Nutrients?
1. Increase Nutrient and Bio-active Compounds
Nuts are nutrient dense. They contain lipids, good quality protein, dietary fibre, most contain some carbohydrate in the form of natural sugars.
Nuts often have a high content of L-arginine, an amino acid which is the precursor of the endogenous vasodilator, nitric oxide (NO).
With the exception of chestnuts, which contain little fat, nuts have a high total fat content, second after vegetable oils.
But, nuts are low in Saturated fatty acid (SFA) content. Most of the nuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids MUFA (oleic acid).
Pine nuts are rich in PUFA (both linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid, ALA).
Walnuts have the highest content in ALA (α-linolenic acid) of all edible plants.
Almonds, hazelnuts, and cashew nuts present a high proportion of MUFAs/ SFAs.
Brazil nuts have the lowest MUFA/SFA ratio
Macadamias exhibit the highest MUFA/PUFA ratio
2. Dietary Fiber
Nuts also are a good source of dietary fibre, which ranges from 4 to 11 g per 100 g. Almonds have the highest fibre of all the tree nuts, corresponding to 12.5 g/100 g. Peanuts have a higher content of protein and fibre when compared to tree nuts.
3. Rich in Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Nuts are a rich source of Vitamins B complex (e.g., folic acid, niacin, tocopherols, and vitamin B6), minerals (e.g. calcium, magnesium, potassium) that are associated with improved health status.
Nuts are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins (e.g., tocopherols) and phenolic compounds.
Each nut variety contains its own unique combination of nutrients and is generally rich in a few nutrients such as:
Almonds: protein, calcium and vitamin E
Cashews: non-haem (plant-based) iron and a low GI rating
Hazelnuts: fibre, potassium, folate, vitamin E
Macadamias: rich in thiamin and manganese
Pine nuts: vitamin E and the arginine amino acid
Pistachios: protein, potassium, plant sterols and the antioxidant resveratrol
Almonds and hazelnuts, rich in α-tocopherol
Walnuts contain high amounts of γ-tocopherol.
Walnut and Pecan contain a high amount of phytosterols and carotenoids.
Brazil nut has a High level of selenium and fibre. Just 2 brazil nuts a day provides 100% RDI for selenium for an adult
Hazelnuts and peanuts contain the highest amount of folic acids
Peanuts are rich in phytosterols
Most of the antioxidants are located outer soft shell of all nuts. In almonds and peanuts and 50% or more of them are lost when the skin is removed.
Bleaching of nuts when the hard shells are cracked, as it occurs naturally in pistachios, also destroys most of the antioxidants.
Roasting of almonds preserves antioxidant activity better than blanching.
Roasting does bring out the flavors of nuts making them taste. well nuttier.
7 Best Benefits of Nuts for Health
1. Control of Appetite, Energy Intake and weight control
Those who are striving hard to control weight, nuts are good choice to add to the menu. Nuts, specifically, almonds and peanuts suppress hunger and desire to eat, thus increase fullness. Early satiation results in the consumption lesser meal portion- a good strategy in weight management.
For weight management, try to consume nuts as a whole.
Take them as a snack in between the regular meals.
Eating a handful of nuts as a substitute for less healthy foods such as muffins, biscuits, cakes, chips, chocolate and so on.
2. Diabetic control
Nuts generally have a low glycemic index. Nuts increase satiety, decrease in glucose and insulin rise after consumption of food. The high amount of MUFA reduces cardiometabolic risk, altered lipid profile, obesity and insulin resistance.
Although more research is needed in this field.
3. Control Hypertension and cholesterol-lowering effect
Nuts are cholesterol-free
Phytosterols are present in the plant cell wall to stabilise it, the same as the cholesterol, present in the human cell wall. Phytosterols, being more hydrophobic than cholesterol, interfere with its absorption, helps to lower blood cholesterol level.
4. Decrease risks of diseases
A high intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium, together with low sodium intake, is associated with protection against hypertension, insulin resistance, and overall cardiovascular risk and bone Demineralization. Nuts contain a good amount of Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. Raw or roasted and unsalted but otherwise unprocessed nuts is very low in its Sodium content.
5. Good for heart
Hypertension, high cholesterol is are the marker of heart disease. Nuts lower cholesterol controls blood pressure and prevents the body from oxidative stress, this reduces the incidence of heart disease.
Arginine (an amino acid which is converted to nitric oxide in the body), helps to keep blood vessels elastic, thereby reducing the risk of hardening of the arteries
Naturally, nuts are low in Sodium and high Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium levels assist in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Inflammation is a key process in the hardening of blood vessels. Nuts have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant vitamins and minerals, e.g. vitamin E, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc, and other antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids and resveratrol found in nuts reduce oxidation and inflammation.
6. Healthy Gut
Nuts and seeds also act as probiotic, by modifying gut microbiota through the presence of fibre and polyphenols. Also, nuts increase intestinal Butyrate synthesis and maintenance of the enteric barrier integrity.
7. Cancer protection
Nuts contain bioactive compounds, such as ellagic acid, anacardic acid, genistein, resveratrol, and inositol phosphates, tocopherols, phytosterols, folic acid, selenium, and magnesium, are purported to have antioxidant or anti-carcinogenic properties which may reduce cancer risk.
Few Precautionary Steps to be taken with using Nuts
There are two main concerns regarding the safety of increasing nut consumption:
1. Possible weight gain
Nuts are energy dense, it is a common misconception that nut consumption leads to weight gain. In fact, the ingestion of nuts can help in the control of satiety and in the increase of thermogenesis, thus controlling weight gain. 30 g of nuts should be consumed daily to provide maximal benefits
without influencing body weight.
Compare nutrition labels before purchasing nuts and choose nut butter with the lowest amounts of sodium and sugar in order to avoid putting on weight.
2. Allergic reactions
Allergic reactions due to nut consumption are well-known, especially among children. Tree nuts are among the eight most common food allergen. Hypersensitivity to nuts is due to seed storage proteins. Allergic reactions can range from the stomach and intestinal upset, skin irritation, sneezing and shortness of breath to a life-threatening reaction called Anaphylaxis that includes swelling of the throat, difficulty talking or breathing, vomiting, diarrhoea, and/or a drop in blood pressure, which may result in unconsciousness.
Tolerance may develop over a period of time in the minority of children. Subsequent allergic reaction increases in severity, avoid all types of nuts and be careful of hidden nut products in processed foods.
The allergic individual should not be exposed to nuts through cooking or meal preparation.
Avoid nut oils too, they may trigger sensitivity.Nut products in the house should be stored in closed containers.
Cooking utensils and any surface that touched nuts should be washed with soap or detergent.
Thermal processing, such as roasting, can improve digestibility and reduce the behavior of allergenic proteins.
How many Dry Fruits should one have Daily?
A healthy daily intake of nuts is 30g (a small handful) or approximately:
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
30 pistachio kernels
9 walnut kernels
a small handful of mixed nuts or about two of each of the ten nut varieties (except chestnut which isn’t eaten raw)
How to Store Nuts?
To enjoy nuts and get the most health benefits, nuts must be handled safely.
Wash your hands properly before unshelling shelled nuts, place them in a clean and airtight container. Don’t wash shelled nuts as they may moisture triggers bacterial growth
Proper storage is necessary to keep the oil in nuts from going rancid, not harmful but may give unpleasant smell and bitter taste.
Storage containers should be clean,
moisture-free, andodour-tightt odour-tightsuch as plastic or glass containers.
Storage life is shorter at room temperature than in a refrigerator or freezer.
Room temperature storage encourages insect growth which becomes rancid quicker.
Warmer the temperature, rapid rancidity.
Nuts retain quality for a year or more at refrigerator temperature (40°F [4°C] or below) or up to 2 years in the freezer (0°F [-18°C] or below).
Don’t buy in bulk if you don’t want to put nuts in the refrigerator, buy in limited quantity, replace regularly.
Careful handling is needed to prevent nuts from being a source of harmful bacteria.
Once opened, Jars of nut oils and butter should be placed in the fridge.
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