Many in the Paleo-based nutrition community consume substantial quantities of nuts. They add crunch to salads, make an easy on-the-go snack, taste delicious in both sweet and savory applications and contain many nutrients. Nuts are used as pastes, spreads, thickeners, dips and flours and form the basis and foundation for many a whole-foods based treat.
There are many solid scientific properties behind nuts and how many and what types are best to consume. Let’s explore some of our favorite varieties and their nuances in a little more detail.
Almonds are the seeds of the almond tree and are closely related to peaches, cherries and plums. They contain about 6 grams of protein per ounce along with vitamin E, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and iron, an assortment of anti-oxidants and fiber. Almonds have potential prebiotic effects and offer a supporting role the balancing of your beneficial gut bacteria. 40% of the world’s almond production is purchased by chocolate manufacturers, and although really delicious, it is best to eat almonds on their own rather than part of a crunchy chocolate nut cluster.
- Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are one of your best dietary sources of selenium which is good for ocular health and has been positively correlated with prostate cancer prevention. They are also a great source of magnesium and fiber. Be aware that selenium is toxic in high amounts and only a few Brazil nuts should be eaten each day.
Most Brazil nuts do not come from Brazil, but rather from the northern region Bolivia.
Cashews are actually fruits of the cashew tree. Through a variety of complex processes, you eventually get the ‘nut’ which you can buy at the store. The double shell covering the cashew contains urushiol, a resin which is toxic when ingested. The same resin is found in poison ivy. All commercially available cashews have thus been processed and steamed!
Cashews are particularly high in magnesium, with a 1 oz. serving containing 82 mg (or 11% of your RDA)
The majority of cashew nuts hail from Brazil and could technically be called Brazil nuts….
Chestnuts are an often overlooked nut choice and are known more as part of a holiday song rather than a nutritious food. Of all nuts, chestnuts provide the highest amount of vitamin C, one of our most powerful antioxidants. A 1 oz. serving can provide up to 18 mg (20%of your RDA). Chestnuts also contain magnesium, vitamin B6 and copper and are lower in fats than most other nuts.
Coconuts are technically ‘dry drupes’, but can loosely qualify in the fruits, nuts and seeds families. The coconut is known for its great versatility, as evidenced by its many traditional uses, ranging from food to cosmetics. They are highly nutritious, rich in fiber and good, naturally occurring saturated fats (including the much acclaimed MCT’s).
For our Paleo purposes, stick to drinking coconut milk, drinking coconut water, using coconut cream, baking with coconut flour, cooking with coconut oil, and using coconut butter.
Hazelnuts are also known as filberts. They are particularly high in protein, dietary fiber, vitamin E, thiamin, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium as well as vitamins B1 and B6. Hazelnuts are most commonly used to make treats, liqueurs and a particularly well-known chocolate hazelnut spread.
- Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts have the best anti-inflammatory omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of all nuts and contain the highest amount of monounsaturated fatty acids. Regular consumption of these nuts may result in lowered triglyceride levels, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. Along with protein and fiber, macadamia nuts also contain significant amounts of thiamin, vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.
Be aware, that although nutritious for humans, macadamia nuts are highly toxic to dogs, causing paralysis and even death.
The peanut, also known as a goober, is not a nut but classified as a grain legume as well as an oil crop. They are also highly allergenic, and exposure (if allergic) can even result in death. The number of humans with a peanut allergy has tripled in the last 15 years. Alfatoxin B1 is the most toxic mycotoxin (mold) related to peanuts. Many peanut butters and cooking oils have been found to be contaminated. Peanuts also contain anti-nutrients, the most noteworthy of which is phytic acid, which impairs the absorption of iron and zinc.
Peanuts account for close to 70% of all ‘nut’ consumption worldwide spearheaded by the consumption of peanut butter and peanut oil.
Other than those with tree nut allergies, peanuts are best avoided when following Paleo style nutrition protocols.
Pecans are a rich source of antioxidants and are usually ranked in the top 15 of all antioxidant rich foods. They are also high in thiamin (vitamin B1) manganese and zinc. Pecans can be eaten fresh or used in cooking and are particularly well known for a specific pie and as a component of pralines.
- Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are the edible seeds found inside pine cones. They have been eaten in Europe and Asia since Paleolithic times and are frequently added to meat, fish, salad and vegetable dishes or baked into breads.
Pine nuts have been known to cause metallogeusia, a metallic taste disturbance 1-3 days after ingestion. This can last up to 2 weeks and typically resolves without treatment or side effects.
Pistachios, a member of the cashew family, are the seeds of a fruit (the outer fruit is removed during processing)! Like other ‘nuts,’ they are a rich source of many beneficial phytonutrients including vitamins B1, B6 and E, protein and fiber and are high in anti-oxidants. As with many plants, the bright green color is a sure sign of their powerful free-radical fighting abilities.
China is the top pistachio consumer worldwide, with annual consumption of 80,000 tons, while the USA consumes about half that amount.
While a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is ideal, most nuts still do not contain much omega-3. This is not true of walnuts. One serving of walnuts has over 100% of your daily value of omega-3. Even the walnut skin has been proven to have some nutritional value. Black walnuts have been promoted as a potential cancer cure and walnuts are listed as one of the 38 ingredients used to make Bach Flower Remedies.
Nuts contain a multitude of nutrients and are usually a reliable source of healthy fats but, as with all food, there is often much so much more going on than you initially realized. Nuts are not nutritious enough to be your sole source of calories, but they will help round out an already-nutritious diet.
Mindful consumerism is important with nuts. As with all foods, be aware of your source, treatment and shelf life. Buy smaller amounts of ethically sourced brands and store in cool dark places. This may mean you need to buy your nuts more often, but will ensure their freshness and prevent the delicate fats from breaking down or turning rancid.
Whole and as nut butters, nuts are very high in calories, easy to over consume and can be inflammatory. Take a serving or two, and put the rest away. Alternately, buy a bag of unshelled nuts and work at getting each one out of its shell. This is a labor intensive process and creates a great perspective when it comes to portion control. As part of your diet, use nuts as a snack or side item – not your main course.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com