I am sure I must have some Turkish blood in me. I use any excuse to munch a handful of seeds and nuts any time of the day. My patients know me as the doctor who prescribes almonds as a must on the breakfast menu or as a snack.
Nuts, depending on the variety, contain important nutrients, including vitamin B, protein and fibre. In fact, nuts are the richest source of protein in the plant kingdom, so they are perfect for vegetarians to include in their daily diet plan.
Archaeological evidence suggests that tree nuts—such as almonds, cashews, pecans, pine, walnuts—were a major part of the human diet 780,000 years ago. Rich in energy and loaded with nutrients, nuts, particularly the ones with Omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, and peanuts, are thought to have been essential to the evolution of the human brain. Several studies have noted that consumption of tree nuts, despite their significant fat content, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, even Parkinson’s disease. Now, there is increasing evidence that they also improve cognition in general and specific ways. Most are rich in vitamin E, and B vitamins, including folate, antioxidants, minerals like magnesium, as well as Omega-3 fats, all of which support myriad functions of the nervous system.
Make sure to have your nuts raw and unsalted. Honey-roasted, chocolate-covered, and other candied nuts give you extra calories that you don’t need. Also, the best way to add nuts to your diet is to use them to replace less healthy fats—like saturated fats in meats or snacks like fried chips. The quantity of nuts to be consumed daily varies for each person, depending on factors like weight, cholesterol level, etc. Speak to your doctor about it. Eating them in moderation, however, will not affect you adversely, it will only do you good.
Pine nuts: Television personality Dr Oz, who is also professor of surgery, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, US, calls these the new fat busters. In one of his shows, Dr Oz recommends a shot glass full of pine nuts every day because it helps curb food cravings, has high-quality protein and heart-healthy fatty acids.
I recommend the same amount but have them 2 hours before any of your main meals; this will keep you full, so you are likely to eat less at lunch or dinner. Pine nuts are also a very good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and folic acid.
Pine nuts are great as a topping for salads when lightly toasted. My favourite is a pesto-like entrée: Toast them and blend with a little grated Parmesan, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a handful of fresh basil, and a couple of garlic pods, and you have a heart- and brain-friendly entrée in minutes.
Old pine nuts smell “off” and look oily. So, always smell the pine nuts before purchasing them to judge their freshness. Store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Cashew nuts: These are high in calories—100g provides around 553 calories—but are also a great source of soluble dietary fibres and minerals. They are also rich in “heart-friendly” mono-unsaturated fatty acids that help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Essential vitamins like pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and thiamine (vitamin B1) are also found in the nut.
Walnuts: According to a study published last year in Psychology Today, eating half a cup a day of walnuts improves one’s logical and reasoning ability. The brain-shaped nuts are packed with vitamin E, folate, melatonin, and varied antioxidative polyphenols like alpha lipoic acid which protect the central nervous system. Around 100g of walnuts have about 650 calories, which is quite high, but are high in plant-based Omega-3 fatty acids.
Brazil nuts: Another wonder nut packed with antioxidants. Exactly two Brazil nuts a day provides the daily requirement for selenium, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of cancer, and prevents ageing. High levels of unsaturated fatty acids and bioactive substances like folate and magnesium means that these nuts lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood lipid profiles, and improve micro-circulation. Have two Brazil nuts within the first 20 minutes of waking up before your tea, coffee or green tea. A 100g of Brazil nuts have about 656 calories, so limit your intake.
Peanuts: They are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and are great for dietary protein and good-quality amino acids that are essential for muscle growth. Peanuts also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant which has been found to help protect against cancers, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and viral/fungal infections. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural And Food Chemistry in 2007 suggests that boiling unshelled peanuts enhances their antioxidant concentration. It has been found that boiled peanuts show a two- to four-fold increase in isoflavone antioxidants. The nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E (a-tocopherol), which keeps skin healthy.
But peanuts are also one of the most common food allergens. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (Ifas), US, recommends that children under the age of 3 should not eat these nuts, to reduce their risk of developing an allergy. Also, if you’re concerned about your thyroid, avoid peanuts, for they contain goitrogens, naturally occurring substances that can interfere with the thyroid. About 100g of peanuts have about 580 calories.
Almonds: Almonds have been long regarded as a top power food, and with good reason. They are bursting with dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, and a variety of health-promoting phyto-chemicals. They are especially rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and are an excellent source of vitamin E—about 25g per 100g. Almonds can help reduce the risk of a variety of diseases, including cancer.
Since almonds are gluten-free, their flour can be used as a healthy and safe alternative for people with wheat allergy and Celiac disease. Almonds also contain many important B-complex groups of vitamins and are a rich source of minerals. Sweet almond oil is an excellent emollient—it helps to protect the skin from dryness.
Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.
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