Nuts are one of nature’s healthiest, ready-to-eat takeaway foods. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and nuts such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts are among the most heart-healthy foods because they have unsaturated fats and only 4g of saturated fats for every 50g. These nuts are among the best plant sources of omega nutrition; only seafood is a richer natural source. Nuts also do not contain any cholesterol whatsoever. Popping large amounts of salted and deep-fried nuts over drinks and dinner with friends is very easy but this is where most people go wrong. For the maximum health benefit, one should not consume more than 30g a week—about a teaspoon or six-seven a day are advised.
Almost all provide these nutrients in addition to a large amount of minerals.
Go nuts:30g of nuts a week are good for health.
•Unsaturated fats, which lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), or the bad cholesterol.
• Omega-3 nutrition, which keeps arteries pliant, prevents erratic heart rhythms and, therefore, heart attacks.
• Fibres, which further lower cholesterol, improve meal satiety so you feel less hungry and don’t succumb to unhealthy and fatty cravings, improve digestion and even prevent diabetes.
• Vitamin E prevents plaque formation. Plaque is made up of sticky cholesterol fragments that adhere to the walls of arteries, progressively narrowing arterial spaces and restricting blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and the brain.
• Plant sterols help lower cholesterol levels. They contain phyto or plant-based chemicals that have a similar structure to cholesterol but different effects.
• L-arginine, a semi-essential amino acid or protein, helps blood vessels relax and keeps the arteries flexible and, therefore, resistant to clot formation.
How to eat them
• Almonds are best absorbed by the body after they are soaked overnight in water or milk and eaten first thing after waking up. Almonds improve brain function and memory because they are rich in vitamin E.
• Cashews are better absorbed by the body if you consume the roasted variety. They are a rich source of zinc, a mineral that nourishes hair. Small amounts of cashew paste can be added to thicken low-fat gravies and cashew combines well with dals to make the proteins complete.
• Pistachios are a good source of vitamins A and C and vitamin B6, so they are good for boosting immunity as well. They are best used to flavour and garnish desserts, ice creams and salads.
• Walnuts have significantly higher levels of omega-3 than the nuts mentioned so far, which is why they turn rancid easily on exposure to air and light. Walnuts can also lower the levels of C-reactive protein. These proteins increase when stress levels are high and when there is inflammation in the body.
• Peanuts have oleic fat, the identical fat found in olives —though in smaller amounts—and have more mono-unsaturated fatty acids (Mufa) than other nuts. Mufa fats are sturdy and can substantially reduce the incidence of heart disease when used regularly.
• Nut-based butters are better than regular butter. Grind about 100g of any of the above nuts to a paste in a coffee grinder, add a teaspoon of virgin olive oil and a dash of salt. Spread a thin layer on toast instead of butter.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com