Welcome to Part 2 of Lucy-Ann’s look into just how nutritious nuts can be! Without further ado, let’s get cracking…
Just like almonds, hazelnuts are best (from a digestion, nutrition, and taste perspective) when they’ve been left to soak in water overnight. The simple act of soaking nuts makes them far easier to digest, and de-activates many of the “anti-nutrients” and natural toxins found in the skin of nuts. Soaking enhances the nutritional value of other foods too, such as wholegrains and legumes.
Oodles of Omega
Hazelnuts are predominantly an Omega-9 rich nut, just like almonds, pecans & macadamias. Other foods rich in Omega-9 fats include avocado, olive oil, and black olives. Omega-9 fatty acids (e.g. oleic acid found in olive oil) are known as monounsaturated fats and feature widely in the world-renowned, “disease protective” Mediterranean diet.
Whilst Omega-9 fats are not “essential” to the body per say (they can be produced in the body from unsaturated fats), we can certainly benefit from including foods sources of Omega-9 regularly in the diet, due to their wonderful “overall” nutrient-rich profiles, whilst simultaneously providing us with the cardiovascular benefits of the Omega-9 fats. Omega-9 fatty acids are also known for their positive effects on cholesterol management, blood sugar and insulin metabolism, and immune function too.
Hazelnuts are an excellent food source of the “beauty vitamin”, vitamin E, which keeps our skin healthy and supple. They also contain vitamin A (unusual for a nut), plenty of B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and manganese. This means that hazelnuts, just like almonds, certainly qualify as a “beautifying food”!
Hazelnuts are usually available shelled and packaged, and always best raw and unroasted. However you may see them in season (end of August through until October) still in their shells and these are known as cobnuts. Hazelnut butter is a nice way to eat hazelnuts (provided it’s pure 100% ground hazelnuts), and can be used in smoothies, as a “nutty spread”, as an ingredient in vegetable pâtés & dips, or as a crunchy topping over yogurt and fresh fruit.
Walnuts are one of the richest plant sources of the omega-3 “mother fat” ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid. Humans can (to a degree) convert the short-chain omega-3 fat ALA, into the longer-chained omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA… the somewhat more “infamous” healthy omega-3 fats, found abundantly in fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. The reason we hear so much about the long-chain Omega-3’s EPA and DHA, is because it’s these fats that are present in brain tissue, and crucial for brain health and optimal brain functioning. Alzheimer’s patients for example, are known to have lower levels of omega-3 fats in the brain. Whilst ALA is health-promoting in its own right, it is important that we optimise our capacity to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. We can do this by getting plenty of the nutrients needed for this important conversion…
The “converting” enzyme involved in this internal chemistry is called delta-6 desaturase, and is highly dependent on vitamins A, C, E, B3, and B6 (plant foods are bursting at the seams with these wonderful nutrients!) as well as the minerals magnesium and zinc. Just remember that substances such as alcohol, “cooked” saturated fat, refined sugar and caffeine can block or inhibit this vital conversion, as well as other negative lifestyle factors such as smoking. Even stress can affect our metabolism - so take time out often to love, laugh and relax!
The ALA found so abundantly in walnuts helps to keep our cell membranes flexible and “pliable”. This allows a fluidity of movement enabling a healthy exchange of nutrients into and, waste out of the cells. Cell flexibility is also vital for cells to respond appropriately to hormones such as insulin, helping to control glucose levels and glucose metabolism. Stiff cell membranes are the unhappy (and unhealthy) result of a diet that is high in “cooked” saturated fats, refined sugars and Trans fats (hydrogenated fats). Omega-3 ALA has also shown promising results in scientific studies, helping to control inflammation, protect and support the health of the bones, and provide blood pressure and cardiovascular support. Omega-3 ALA truly is an extremely healthy fat – and walnuts happen to hold an abundant amount for us!
In addition to the health benefits associated with the ALA fat found in walnuts, there are other specific substances in walnuts that have shown promising tumour-fighting ability. A research team led by scientist, Dr Hardman, found that eating walnuts provides the body with not only essential omega-3 fatty acids, but also antioxidants and phytosterols that reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Value for money…
Walnuts (as well as flaxseeds you heard about in the article “Super Seeds”) happen to be one of the most cost-effective food sources of Omega-3. With regard to how much Omega-3 we actually need, there are different recommendations across the globe, although none are actually “official”. The UK’s FSA suggest a rather meagre 3000mg, or 3 grams per week, whereas other authorities suggest 2-4 grams per day! Many nutritional experts err more towards this 2-4 grams per day recommendation, and certainly when it comes to reversing or treating modern day diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and arthritis. To put things into a practical perspective, simply consuming a quarter cup of walnuts would give you about 2 grams, and 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds would provide 3.5 grams of Omega-3. Along with other plant-based foods such as hemp seeds, chia seeds, and of course plenty of leafy greens, we can get a very healthy Omega-3 quota every day.
Cashew nuts are produced from the cashew tree, a tropical evergreen that also produces the cashew apple. Cashews are related to mangos, as well as pistachio nuts. If you want a nut that combines sweet with salty, then cashews are for you! Cashews are actually quite different to other nuts, and one of few that actually contain significant amounts of carbohydrate, with as much as 20-30g of CHO, per 100g food. This has two potential benefits:
Firstly, if you’re quite active, they can contribute to your much-needed carbohydrate requirements.
Secondly, due to their macronutrient balance, they also tend to be faster-digesting, so often work well as a pre-exercise fuel or energy boost, as well as a tasty food to snack on during exercise, such as a long walk or hike, long bike ride or long run. Cashews, like almonds, contain the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and are an excellent source of copper, as well as being a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.
As you can now appreciate, “nuts” can vary quite a bit in their nutritional profiles, and whilst all “raw” nuts are healthy for most avid plant-based eaters, each one holds some unique benefits that can be tailored to individual tastes and needs.