Go Nuts! Nuts and seeds are a vital addition to a healthy, nutritious diet. Yes, they are high in fat and calories, but they are high in a very healthy and beneficial fat, worth the calories! Since they are relatively high in calories, they should not be eaten in excess, but they are a healthy whole food that is high in fiber and nutrients, so the body knows how to use these calories and fat to its advantage.
Nuts and seeds are a great source of Omega-3 and other essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and oleic acid (heart-healthy monounsaturated fat), Vitamin E, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, protein, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals. The phytochemicals include protease inhibitors, ellagic acid, and other polyphenols. Nuts are a great source of the amino acid, arginine. Arginine is very beneficial to the body for wound healing, detoxification, immune system, promotion of several hormones, including insulin and growth hormone. Arginine also plays a part in the formation of nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.
And of course nuts and seeds are antioxidants! Because nuts and seeds are relatively high in calories and good fat, they have a high satiety factor, which means they satisfy and fill you up, thus promoting healthy weight and preventing obesity!
The recommendation for nuts and seeds is about 5 servings per week. I recommend 1-1 ½ ounces of nuts or seeds per day. These can be eaten alone, although it is easy to stack up too many calories when eating nuts and seeds alone as a snack. Keep that to no more than a handful and it is best to eat them about 20-30 minutes before a meal so that the body starts to work to digest all the healthy fat in the nuts and thus makes you less hungry when you eat your meal. A great way to use nuts and seeds and not over-eat is to use them as an addition to salads, or placed on vegetable dishes. They can be soaked and added to smoothies, or put on oatmeal.
Nuts and seeds are BEST eaten raw as heat can damage or destroy the healthy fat in them. If roasted they should be lightly toasted. When you roast them carcinogenic acrylamides form as they are browned and protein content is decreased. The more they are cooked the more amino acids are destroyed and you lose levels of calcium, iron, selenium and other minerals. Cooked nuts also become rancid much more easily and should be stored carefully in a cool dry place. Nuts can be rancid without tasting so. It is safe to roast or toast nuts at low temperature, no higher than 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Soaking nuts is thought to increase their digestibility. Soaking raw cashews then using in a blender with vegetables makes a great thickener for soup without using milk or cream. Sprouting nuts is another way to increase the health benefits of them.
The best storage system for nuts is their own shell, so whenever possible buy them still in their shell. Otherwise they should be in a vacuum-sealed opaque package that protects them from air and light. If purchased in bulk, buy from a busy store where the turnover is frequent and they have not been sitting in a bin exposed to air and light for a lengthy period of time.
Nut butters can be a nutritious way to enjoy nuts and seeds, but care should be taken to insure that they are natural and not packed with sugar and preservatives. Making home-made nut butter is always a better option.