It’s well-known that nuts pack a punch with regards to their health benefits. They are high in fibre, rich in micronutrients such as vitamin E and protein and a good source of all dietary fats. But there has been more recent research that reveals the extent to which certain nuts can be a good addition to the diet.
Studies looking at satiety and the effects on weight loss have found that people are more satisfied with meals, leading to less overall food intake, when they include almonds. For example, participants who included approximately 50g of almonds into their daily intake for four weeks lost more weight and had a lower blood glucose response after a meal compared to the control group (the group used as a comparison who were instructed to change nothing).
What was interesting here was that these people weren’t instructed to eat less, but overall their calorie intake reduced in comparison to their standard calorie intake, indicating that almonds satisfied their hunger to an extent that they didn’t feel as hungry. The major benefit could be their inclusion as a snack rather than part of a meal.
Another interesting fact about almonds is that they are somewhat resistant to digestion. Anyone looking up the calorie content of 50g of almonds might see that they contain around 245 calories; however our body doesn’t actually absorb all of these. Recent research suggests that the formula used to estimate the calorie content of foods is not the same for each food, with people who consume higher amounts of almonds having a higher amount of fat in their stool on analysis.
Looking at your poop is actually a great indicator of most things digestive and, typically, fat is easy to digest so the malabsorption of fat might not be a good thing. But not in this instance.
Just 2-3 brazil nuts a day is going to provide us with selenium — a mineral that has important anti-cancer and antioxidant properties and is vital to our hormone, brain and gut health. In fact, delving into literature revealed a study that showed just one brazil nut a day over six months improved cognitive function in a group of older adults. Our soil in New Zealand is deplete in many essential minerals, so this is actually an easy way to ensure an adequate intake.
Walnuts look a little like a brain and are well known for their potential role in improving brain health due to their fatty acid profile (a source of plant omega 3s) and their phytochemical content, helping to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. In older adults they have been associated with a reduction in premature death and improved cardiovascular health.
So with all of these benefits, does this mean we can go nuts on nuts? Unsurprisingly, no.
Some people have issues with digestion that might limit their absorption of minerals in their diet — and though nuts are a good source of some minerals, they are also rich in phytic acid. Phytic acid can bind essential minerals and prevent their absorption, and studies have shown we can absorb up to 20 per cent more zinc and 60 per cent more magnesium when we limit our phytic acid.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of animal products (for the zinc) or eat your greens (magnesium) then perhaps nuts at every meal isn’t a good idea. Phytic acid can also interfere with the enzymes required for digestion of protein and starch, contributing to digestive problems.
Soaking nuts in water for a few hours or overnight, and rinsing them, can be a good way to reduce much of this phytic acid. Slow-drying nuts in your oven at a low temperature will dry them out and overall make them a much less problematic food.
For some, nuts can be a trigger food — a few nuts can open the floodgates to a LOT of nuts. They are a nutrient-dense food and pack a calorie punch. Just half a cup of cashews (for example) have around 420 calories — for some that is equivalent to a small meal.
There is a lot of confusion around calories and whether or not we should be “counting calories” the way we once were. My take on this is that, in the context of a real food diet you shouldn’t have to count calories, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t count.
If you eat 2-3 handfuls of nuts at a time without realising it, then my best advice is either to avoid the nut that causes you to do this or pre-package your own snacks so you don’t mindlessly graze on a family size packet.
Not all nuts are created equal
My preference is to choose raw, unblemished nuts over ones that are roasted in oil and have spices, sugar or salt added. That way you are likely to be consuming them at their best with little risk of rancidity or oxidation (oxidised oils are best minimised in the diet do to their inflammatory properties).
If you’re someone who typically goes for just one type of nut, why not use National Nut Day as an excuse to try a different variety and experience some of the other benefits they can offer?
Walnut and chia porridge
This breakfast recipe is a good source of plant omega 3s. You can omit the egg if you wish. Serves 2
½ cup walnuts
1 medium carrot, roasted
3 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ cup coconut milk
- Whizz the walnuts in a food processor until they resemble crumbs (or smash with a rolling pin), and place in a small saucepan.
- Mash or whizz the carrot and banana together and add to the saucepan with the chia seeds, cinnamon, ginger and coconut milk. Bring to a medium heat, stirring so all ingredients mix together.
- Once hot and blended remove from heat and crack an egg into the mixture, stirring constantly to mix it properly without "cooking" the egg.
- Divide evenly between two bowls.
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Through her subscription service of meal plans and nutritional support, nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. To find out more and to sign up, visit mikkiwilliden.com