Food Focus: Health Benefits of Nuts
Nuts and seeds are packed with all the nutrients needed to grow an entire new plant. They are rich in vitamin E and potassium; many are good sources of folate, niacin and other B vitamins. Most are high in minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, they are a good source of protein and essential fats.
Coconuts are the world’s leading nut crop, followed by peanuts (which are actually legumes but often classified and consumed as nuts. Nuts are emerging as nutritional superstars as scientists continue to find positive health benefits from consuming them.
Certain nuts are higher in certain nutrients. A 50g serving of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts or pistachios provide more than 340mg of potassium, about the same as a banana. Almonds have 240mg of calcium in 50g, as much as found in 200ml of milk. A 50g serving of cashews contains 3mg of iron. Brazil nuts are high in the anti-oxidant selenium. Just one nut provides more than twice the RDI for this mineral.
Most nuts provide good amounts of protein. With the exception of peanuts, however, they lack lysine, an essential amino acid necessary to make a complete protein. This amino acid can easily be obtained by combining nuts with legumes. Nuts can provide a good source of protein in a vegetarian diet. They also help you keep normal blood sugar levels.
Finally, most nuts and seeds are a good source of dietary fibre. A 50g serving of most nuts provides about 4-5g. Nuts also contain plant sterols that can lower cholesterol and may offer some protection against cancer. Several large studies have found that a regular intake of nuts protects against heart disease.
Nuts have two potential drawbacks: they are high in kilojoules and fats. But with the exception of coconuts and palm nuts, their fat is mostly mono- or polyunsaturated. These are considered heart friendly fats, especially when they replace saturated fats. Still nuts should be consumed in moderation. Macadamia nuts have more than 3,000 kilojoules per 100g; pecans are a close second. Other nuts and seeds contain about 2,500-2,800 kilojoules per 100g.
Refrigerate or freeze shelled nuts; their oil quickly turn rancid. Never use nuts that are mouldy or have an off taste; moulds, especially on peanuts, create aflatoxins, substances that cause liver cancer.
Nuts and nut butters can make a great snack. An ideal amount is 5-6 Brazil nuts, 10-12 almonds, 8-10 walnuts or pecans. If that isn’t enough to satisfy then have an apple or celery stick with the nuts to help fill you up.