Nuts for your health

By June 24, 2016 Nutrition

The top five nuts and seeds to eat for better health

Are you nuts about your health? If so you may want to add more of these nutrient-dense foods, as well as some seeds, to your diet.

Regularly eating nuts and seeds has been linked to reduced incidence of just about every major health problem, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and many others. One study linked a daily handful of nuts to a reduced risk of dying from any cause over a 30-year period. Research shows people who regularly eat nuts typically weigh less than those who don’t. And it does not necessarily mean eating large amounts to get benefits — small amounts regularly can improve your nutritional status.

In choosing the top nuts and seeds, certain healthy criteria were first considered.

Healthy nut and seed choices are typically low on the glycemic index, contain significant amounts of healthy fat, protein and fiber, and are relative low in carbohydrate. They can also be significant sources of vitamins and minerals.

The best nuts and seeds to eat are fresh, raw and organic, and those with the best fat profiles. They should always be chewed well, or ground before using in recipes, to help digestion and allow for better absorption of the nutrients.

Nuts and seeds, like all foods, contain different ratios of certain fats. Those with higher levels of monounsaturated and lower levels of polyunsaturated fats are the most health-promoting. Roasting or otherwise cooking nuts and seeds, or leaving them unrefrigerated for long periods, can cause unhealthy oxidation of the polyunsaturated portion. This is evident if the taste is rancid or unnaturally bitter.

In fact, many nuts and seeds contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which is why these are not on the top-5 list and should be consumed more sparingly. Some examples are the popular chia and traditional peanut (actually a legume), which are also very low in nutrients.

Especially avoid any polyunsaturated oils extracted from nuts and seeds as they become particularly unstable when out of the shell or processed and require constant refrigeration.

Nuts and seeds can be used to make delicious spreadable nut and seed butters, and can also be used in various healthy recipes, including smoothies, breads, pancakes/waffles and desserts. As mentioned, cooking these foods can be harmful, so it’s best to use those with lower polyunsaturated ratios, like almonds, cashews and macadamias — for recipes. Ground seeds are best used in recipes that will be consumed soon.

Based on these criteria, here are the five best nuts and seeds to consume regularly for better health:

  1. Almonds— Hands-down tops in NUT-ritional sweepstakes. They are highest in monounsaturated fat, and low in polyunsaturated fat. They are good sources of protein and fiber, B2 and vitamin E, and the minerals magnesium and manganese.
  2. Cashews— Though they don’t have quite the stellar fat ratios of almonds, tasty cashews also are relatively high in monounsaturated fat, and are a good source of protein. Cashews are not particularly high in vitamins and minerals though they are a significant source of vitamin K. Avoid eating too many if you are carbohydrate intolerant as they have more carbs than almonds.
  3. Macadamia — Indigenous to Australia, with many grown in Hawaii, macadamia nuts are extremely high in monounsaturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat. They are a very good source of vitamin B1 and the mineral manganese.
  4. Sesame — Sesame seeds contain good amounts of protein and fiber. Their fat profile is about half monounsaturated and half polyunsaturated so they should not be cooked; however, buying unhulled seeds ensures fresh unspoiled healthy oils. They contain good amounts of various vitamins and minerals. Sesame seeds also contain the lignan sesamin, which is associated with several health benefits because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
  5. Flax— Many people view flax as a source of omega-3 fat but the conversion to EPA is not very efficient and therefore flax is not a substitute for fish oil. However, they are a good source of other nutrients, including B1, B6 and folate, as well as the minerals magnesium, copper and manganese. Flax is also rich in lignans and other phytonutrients. Always buy fresh whole flax seeds and consume them raw — soaking them or running them through a blender helps break down the hull to release nutrients. Like sesame, flax will become very unstable when broken or ground, so consume them soon.

Nuts are great additions to recipes like wheat-free bread, pancakes and waffles, in smoothies or a small handful can be a great simple snack. Seeds are also great when ground for use in recipes that won’t be cooked and will be consumed in a short period of time.

28 Comments

  • Matthew Evangelisti says:

    Doc, how about comments concerning Raw, Sprouted and/or Roasted nuts? Seems to be important considerations, no?
    Thanks!

  • ROD CARTOCCI B.S., M.P.E., Dip. C.N., Dip. S.N. says:

    Phil…What about walnuts?

  • Michael Smith says:

    After reading your very informative article I decided to review the nutrient content of chia seeds and the literature didn’t show these seeds to be “very low in nutrients”.
    I’m confused.

  • Actually, raw nuts have anti-nutrient phytates which are problematic. Better to eat them sprouted: 24 hour soak in salted water and long enough in the dehydrator to crisp a little. Store better that way, too.

  • Chris W says:

    Other than peanuts and chia seed (although many sources tout them as beneficial for endurance athletes) what other nuts should one avoid? Do you have a bottom 5 list?
    Thanks,
    Chris

    • No bottom 5 list as of yet. Chia seeds have a lot of good qualities, and I use them often, but they are far from the “superfood fixes all” that they are often touted to be. (In part because of what Dr. Maffetone wrote).

  • João says:

    What about pumpkin seeds?

  • Jonathan says:

    I’m a little confused on the Chia seeds. I have them everyday and thought that was a good thing. Is Phil saying they are bad, or just not as good as promoted? Should I stop having them or is it ok to keep having them? Thanks.

  • Jonathan says:

    Great quick article. The mentions of sprouted nuts is new to me, but seem to be ’emerging’ information that could use a better look. But my question comes from the processing of these good nuts – most widespread is the use of almonds to produce milk and other products (some of which you’ve mentioned).

  • James says:

    how about Brazil nuts?

  • Dave Lund says:

    Tiger “nuts” (not nuts I know) are touted as a good thing – any thoughts?

    • Dave:

      They’re pretty starchy, so they’re not a nut we would recommend for the TWT. Other than that, they seem like a decent food.

      • Dave L says:

        A recent UK TV program examining “superfoods” (and mythbusting if appropriate) suggested they are a decent source of resistant starch (prebiotic) and soluble fiber, and they appear to have a reasonable fat profile. In Spain they make a milk out of them. Not nuts, no, apologies for posting in a nut article. I think I’ll try some, given you think they are OK bearing in mind their starch, maybe swap out something else. Thanks for your help

  • Nate says:

    What about Pistachios?

  • Stjepan says:

    Hello,

    I have a question(s) regarding the fuelling strategies for a 100 mile ultramarathons.
    A little background first – I have run a couple of ultras so far (around 100 km range) on a standard carbo diet. These were all done over the course of last year. This year had me pinned down with varouis injuries, so my race calendar was full of DNFs. Since I had the time to reflect I decided to change something in my approach and in the end I’ve changed everything. I adopted the 180 formula and started training according to it (and am enjoying it, btw – bounced back from most of my injuries, no more burn outs from faster paced workouts, etc.). I have also started eating significantly less carbs, doing pretty much what dr. Maffetone promotes. All the benefits by adopting HR monitored training regime and changes in nutrition (and confirmed by the many users) are there for me too.
    This leads to my question, finally. 🙂 As I haven’t been racing at all after the implementation of dr. Maffetone training/nutrition, I am not quite sure what would be the best approach to fueling during the ultramarathon. What I can say from my experience so far is that I can go comofortably for 4-6 hours without any food during training, so this would have me believe that I am reasonably well fat adapted. But I still have next to no experience what would happen over the course of an ultramarathon, so I’m looking for guidance on what to consume during this kind of event. What I have found out on the web from dr. Maffetone are his suggestions for usage of honey dilluted in water, which somewhat covers the aspect of easily digested carbs during the race. What would be other suggestions in such a race? Carbs, fats, solids of which kind? I was thinking of using almond butter mixed with coconut and a small amount of honey. Would that be a good idea? Any thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Oh, and I’m a vegetarian.

    Apologies for a long winded post and also if this kind of questions were posted before. I tried to look for the answers myself, but I found no such specifics.

    Thanks,

    Stjepan

  • Benjamin says:

    What kind of quantities would you recommend? A handful a day? How much is too much? Thanks

  • Tom says:

    Any substitutes for someone with food allergies? Unfortunately I have anaphylaxis to tree nuts, sesame, and white fish.

  • Dave says:

    I don’t see any mention of pine nuts, are the Maffetone approved? Thanks.

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