Thursday 03 May 2018


I thought that this would be a very good topic for a blog simply because when I do cookery demonstrations or talk to people about diet the subject of nuts always comes up. I get asked so many questions. Should I eat nuts? What are the benefits of nuts? Are nuts fattening? How many nuts should I eat? I hear that walnuts are the best is that true? Etc. etc. so as you can see lots of questions which I will attempt to answer in this blog.

Firstly let’s look at the overall benefits of eating nuts, then look at some individual nuts that seem to have special qualities or uses and finely ways to use them.

General benefits of nuts

Nuts are not only rich in energy but also rich in valuable nutrients. They are loaded with Oleic acid and Palmitoleic acids. Both have been shown to lower LDL, or bad cholesterol and raise HDL, good cholesterol. This protects against heart disease. This benefit has been observed in individuals following the Mediterranean diet.

Nuts are rich in the very essential omega 3 fatty acids. Research studies suggest that they have powerful anti -inflammatory properties and help to support healthy cell structure amongst many other things. As you may know omega 3 is only present in limited foods, such as nuts, seeds, nut butters and oils and oily types of fish. So you can see that nuts are an important contributor to omega 3 in the diet.

Minerals In general nuts are important contributors of minerals particularly potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. Remember that minerals, like vitamins, serve as essential components in enzymes and co enzymes. Enzymes are involved in the speeding up of chemical reactions necessary for our bodies to function properly.They contain very good levels of vitamin E a powerful anti -oxidant necessary for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes and of the skin.

B Vitamins Nuts also provide valuable B vitamins which are essential for optimal health and wellbeing. B vitamins help to maintain good energy levels and help with mild anxiety and stress.

Protein Nuts contain very useful levels of protein, particularly cashew nuts and almonds. This makes them useful for vegetarians or as a meat alternative. I quite often throw a handful of cashew nuts over a salad at lunchtime to add protein to my meal, which is quick and easy. Protein helps to keep blood sugar stable as well as being essential for growth and repair of tissues, for enzyme activity and antibody production as well as many other roles.

But aren’t nuts fattening?
As you can see in the very brief points above nuts contribute valuable nutrients to the diet.Despite this many people worry that nuts are fattening because they are high in fat. Well as we know the fat content is the good beneficial fats which contribute to our health (nuts are cholesterol free). If nuts are eaten as a snack instead of cakes, biscuits and chocolate then the calories are immaterial because the cakes biscuits etc. are completely void of nutrients and contribute to erratic blood sugar, poor energy levels and do not satisfy hunger. In fact they are addictive types of foods which can easily lead to overeating. So in these circumstances nuts would be an excellent alternative.  Many research papers show that people who frequently eat nuts are less obese.

How many nuts is a good amount?
Over eating nuts like over eating any food would contribute to extra calories and weight gain. As a rule of thumb I always recommend that a portion size is what you can easily fit onto the palm of your hand. Portion size does not equate to the size of the packet!!

So let us have a look at some individual nuts and their particular health benefits.

Almonds As I have mentioned they are rich in protein but are also a very important contributor of Calcium needed for good bone health. The skin of almonds is rich in flavonoids a group of antioxidants. Almonds have been used in many trials and have been shown to drastically reduce cholesterol levels in the body.

Brazil nuts Known for their high levels of selenium needed for the immune system but also for healthy thyroid function. Our thyroid gland regulates our metabolism. To get sufficient selenium we should have 4 Brazil nuts a day.

Chestnuts These are by far the lowest in essential fat but are a good source of vitamin C and B vitamins. Chestnut flour can be used in gluten free baking.

Cashew nuts As I have mentioned these are a good source of protein and a very useful source of zinc. Zinc is essential for good immune function. It is worth trying cashew nut cream as an alternative to standard cream. Simply blitz some cashew nuts with water and some almond essence or vanilla essence. The amount of water will determine its thickness so you can control this to suit your taste.

Macadamias These have the highest fat content of all nuts but also contribute to good levels of B vitamins and minerals.

Pecan nuts contribute Plant sterols to the diet which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol. They are therefore said to be heart protective.

Pistachios These nuts are particularly rich in B6 which is essential for good hormone balance. They also contain reasonable levels of Lutein and Zeaxanthin two antioxidants that protect the eyes from degeneration.

Walnuts.These nuts have a superior antioxidant levels and have been shown in research to protect against cancer. They have the highest content of omega 3. The cold pressed walnut oil is very nice as a salad dressing.

A note about peanuts…..
I have not mentioned Peanuts this is because technically they are not a nut but a legume. There is also concern by many health professionals about the presence of a mould on peanuts called Aflatoxin. This has been shown to be toxic to the liver and is said to be carcinogenic. For this reason they are not recommended.

Buy nuts in small amounts
When choosing nuts always buy small quantities of unsalted nuts frequently to ensure freshness. This is because the fat in the nuts can deteriorate quickly due to oxidation.

Nut butters
Make good use of nut butters like cashew nut butter or almond nut butter. They are excellent as a snack spread on oatcakes or rice cakes or toast. Many people who cannot eat nuts because of digestive issues can often tolerate the nut butters.

How to include nuts in your diet
Nuts make a handy snack as they do not need preparing and can be carried in a bag or pocket when away from home. I like to mix nuts and seeds and some chopped up unsulphured dried apricots and use this as an in between meal pick me up. Enrich cakes by swapping some of the flour for ground almonds.When making a smoothie add a tablespoon of ground almonds to help counter the high sugar level in this drink from all of the fruit. Almonds are a good source of protein and protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.Make good use of cold pressed nut oils which carry the same nutritional benefits as the nuts they are made from. They make excellent salad dressings.I hope that this blog has convinced the sceptics that nuts are a very useful part of a healthy balanced diet and to introduce them to add variety and nutrients in a simple easy way. No fuss no cooking!!

Blog originally written by Caroline July 2014 

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