Paula Southworth

Nutritionist and Health Coach

BSc Nutrition and Sports Science

Massey University, Auckland

New Zealand

What’s so amazing about nuts?

Nuts are an incredible, nutrient dense food.  They are full of good fats, vitamin E and a substance called arginine.  Once arginine enters your body it is converted to nitric oxide which relaxes the walls of your arteries (making them more flexible).  Arginine also helps to prevent the formation of plaques. This is pretty significant because plaque formation on the walls of the arteries causes a narrower gap for blood to pass through.  Any clots that may form could cause a blockage which will result in a heart attack. The risk of heart disease is lower in countries where nuts are eaten as part of the everyday diet. There is evidence that nut consumption also lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes in women & the risk of prostate cancer in men.

Nuts are also a great source of:

  • Omega 3 oils – fantastic for heart and brain health.  Walnuts are especially high in omega 3. Nuts don’t contain any dietary cholesterol, are very low in saturated fats and are one of the best plant-based sources of omega 3. 
  • Protein – especially good for vegetarians.
  • Vitamin E - an anti-oxidant that mops up the free radicals which form in our bodies and prevents our cells from damage.  It also prevents plaques from forming on the walls of the arteries and so protects your heart.  Almonds and walnuts are especially good sources of vitamin E.  Thirty grams of almonds provides all the daily requirements of vitamin E for adult females & almost all for adult males.
  • Fibre - is known to help lower cholesterol levels in your body. Peanuts (a legume, not really a nut), almonds and hazelnuts contain more fibre than other nuts.
  • Plant sterols – prevents the body from absorbing cholesterol and so can help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Folate – overall healthy functioning of all cells in the body and prevention of neural tube defects (Spina Bifida) in fetuses of pregnant women.
  • Selenium - important for a healthy immune system and healthy thyroid function. New Zealand soils are low in selenium.  Just one or two brazil nuts a day will provide all the selenium you need.  It’s important not to eat more than this on an everyday basis as selenium can be toxic in large doses. 
  • Magnesium – for healthy bones and proper muscle function.  Brazil nuts, cashews and almonds contain more magnesium than other nuts.
  • Potassium - an electrolyte which helps the proper functioning of all cells in the body and is especially important for healthy heart and muscle function.  Pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds contain higher amounts than other nuts.
  • Calcium - for healthy bones and teeth, with almonds containing the highest amounts and Brazil nuts and hazelnuts coming a close second.

Unroasted, unsalted nuts make a healthy, satisfying snack. A small handful (30 grams) of mixed nuts four to five times per week has been found to provide beneficial effects. It is one of nature’s ultimate ‘fast foods’!  Keeping a small bag on hand will help to satisfy those hunger pangs when you are out and about, and preventing you from driving to the nearest fast food place or buying a chocolate bar or bag of crisps to tide you over. Although nuts are high in fat, it is the good kind of fat and keeping serving sizes to the recommended amounts ensures that it doesn’t affect body weight.  Studies have shown that people who eat nuts are less likely to be overweight.

For our bodies to be able to properly absorb the nutrients in nuts, they must be chewed well, otherwise they will just pass through our digestive system without all the nutrients being extracted.  One way around this is to finely grind the nuts and in this way they can be added to smoothies, yogurt, baking, soups, curries, casseroles and even sprinkled over cereal.  If eating raw nuts is not appealing to you, try gently roasting them in a pan for a few minutes without any added oil to enhance their flavour.  Only roast the amount you will need for a couple of days because once the oils in the nuts have been heated they can go rancid quite quickly & develop an ‘off’ flavour, and rancid oils don’t have a positive effect on our health.

All in all, nuts are a pretty amazing food!  Unless you are allergic to them, try including some into your diet every day.

The Bin Inn (326 Hibiscus Coast Highway) stocks a wide range of raw nuts, as does Nature Storeroom (3 Orewa Square, Orewa) and of course all our local supermarkets stock them too.

 

Printed in the Rodney Times on December 3, 2013 by Paula Southworth.