TABLE OF CONTENTS
It is said that variety is the spice of life, and that is so true! So, why not have them for our food? In this case, nuts! Nuts are one of those foods, where you cannot just have one in your pantry, as they are such a nutritious treat with many varying health benefits. As such, it’s best to have a few different types around that can cater to our health in many different ways, hence the variety.
Botanically, nuts are actually dry hard fruits that do not open naturally when they become mature. As such, they are developed from two (2) or more carpel or what is called the female reproductive structure (Britannica.com). Therefore, these fruits are described as hard shelled-like, single seed fruits with a very high oil content. Let’s discuss!
Tree nuts are defined as dry fruits that comprise of seeds that open upon maturity when the ovary becomes hard (Brufau et. al. 2006; Ros, 2006). As such, some of the most edible tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia and Brazil nuts (Brufau et. al. 2006; Ros, 2006). Peanuts, which are actually groundnuts or legumes are oftentimes identified as part of the tree nut family as they are considered to have the same nutrient profile (Brufau et. al. 2006; Ros, 2006). However, chestnuts, which are considered at times to be the world’s only truest nut, have a different nutrient profile than other common tree nuts, as they are characterized as being starchier (Ros, 2010).
Nuts are classified as a nutrient-dense food as they are rich in fatty acids and vegetable protein (Brufau et. al. 2006), dietary fiber (Salas-Salvadó et. al 2006), vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6 etc. as well as minerals (i.e., calcium, potassium and magnesium), phenolic acid compounds among others (Ros, 2010). Studies have associated the consumption of nuts with reduced incidences of certain ill-health conditions such as gallstones, coronary heart disease and diabetes, especially in women (Ros, 2010).
Other studies have also shown that their consumption may even be beneficial to conditions such as hypertension, inflammation and even cancer (Ros, 2010). However, healthy individuals can benefit from consuming nuts as well, particularly as it pertains to inflammation and oxidative stress (Ros, 2010). Inflammation and oxidative stress have been labelled by several researchers as major markers for many chronic diseases.
Nuts are usually consumed as a snack or as part of a meal including desserts. Sometimes, you can even find them being eaten whole as a treat (raw or roasted). Some of the most famous ways of consuming nuts, especially in the western countries include peanut or almond butter, nut oils or baked products (Dreher et. al. 1996; Sabaté, 1999). While some nuts have gotten a bad rap over the years due to their purportedly fat content, research contends that most of their fats are largely those of unsaturated fatty acids (Ros, 2006).
Additionally, evidence from clinical trials and epidemiological studies has purported that the regular consumption of nuts does not contribute to obesity or increase one’s risk of developing debilitating conditions such as diabetes (Nash and Nash, 2008; Sabaté and Angt, 2009; Rajaram and Sabaté, 2006 etc.). In fact, their fats and other nutrients have now landed them in the category of being a cardio-protective food by many researchers (Nash and Nash, 2008, Kelly and Sabaté, 2006 etc.). Further, the Heart Association have listed nuts in their 2020 report as a health promotion or disease reduction food.
In this article, we will be exploring five (5) ‘must have’ nuts which you should have in your wellness pantry. These nuts include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts and peanuts. We will also discuss any noted side effects of consuming these nuts, particularly on a regular basis.
You can read more on some additional nutritional powerhouses by checking out these articles:
- Spirulina – The Ultimate Guide, including Five (5) Scientific Proven Benefits.
- Blueberries – They are more than just for brain health – Here are Five (5) awesome benefits worth knowing!
Five (5) ‘must have’ nuts for your wellness pantry:
Health Benefits of Almonds
Almonds or (prunus dulcis) are a rich nutrient nut with many potential health benefits. It is one of those nuts that have gone through extensive research over the years due to the fact that its consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes (type 2) as well as weight management and control (Richardson et. al 2009).
While all nuts are considered energy-dense with a high level of fats (mostly unsaturated), one must still be cautious about overindulgence as well as how to fit them into a healthy balanced diet. However, almonds are purported to be one of those nuts that are more on the healthy side due to their wide range of nutrients.
Some of the nutrients in almonds include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin E, folate, niacin and selenium (Richardson et. al 2009). Almonds are also an excellent source of plant protein with about twenty-one (21%) percent per one hundred (100g) grams (Richardson et. al 2009). It is also essentially sodium-free and very high in potassium which makes it a good fit for a low-sodium diet (Richardson et. al 2009).
Further, almonds usually contain about five seventy-five (575) Kcal per one hundred (1000 grams, which is about fifty (50%) percent fat. Nonetheless, the fat content in this nut is largely monounsaturated fat (Richardson et. al 2009). Additionally, the saturated fatty acids in almonds are considered the lowest of all the nuts, with about 3-7g per 100 grams of almonds (Chen et al, 2006). To this extent, the fatty acids in almonds are purportedly beneficial to one’s overall health as they have been touted to have cardiovascular benefits, being able to reduce blood cholesterol as well as help the body resist oxidative stress. It may also be able to improve the body’s endothelial function (Ros and Matiaix 2006; Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006). Another nutrient that must be mentioned in a more elaborate way is the antioxidant – Vitamin E. Almonds are considered one of the nuts with the highest content of this antioxidant (Blomhoff et al. 2006).
Almonds are also usually touted as a weight management nut due to the fact that it contains around twelve (12) grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams (Ellis et al. 2004). Additionally, it contains no dietary cholesterol while being a rich source of phytosterols, which is a class of compounds that reduces the absorption of cholesterol. This makes the body able to maintain a healthy blood cholesterol level (Griel and Kris-Etherton, 2006).
Health Benefits of Walnuts
Persian or English Walnuts (Juglans regia L) belong to the angiospermic family and are touted as an important nutritious crop. Walnuts are reportedly one of the most important temperate nuts that are grown globally (International Nut and Dried Fruit Council INC, 2016 – 2017).
Walnuts reportedly contain about sixty-five (65%) percent fat by weight. As such, most of its energy comes from fat (Prasad, 1994). Therefore, they are an energy-dense, high caloric food. The fatty acids in walnuts are Oleic acid (18:1), Linoleic acid (18:2) and Linolenic acid (18:3) with the most abundant fatty acid being omega -6, which is called linoleic acid (Prasad, 1994).
Walnuts also contain a high percentage of omega -3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA makes up about 8-14% of the total fat content of walnut (Fatima et al. 2018). As such, it is reportedly the only nuts that contain a significant amount of ALA. ALA is very crucial to one’s health as it is suggested to be very beneficial for heart health. It is also beneficial in reducing inflammation in the body as well as blood lipids (Fatima et al. 2018).
Walnuts are also a rich source of protein. The protein content is said to range from 13.6 to 18.1 grams per 100 grams (Savage, 2010 (17). One of the main amino acids found in walnuts is – arginine which can inhibit platelet adhesion and aggregation (Sabate et. al, 1993).
Walnuts are reportedly able to help protect against coronary heart disease via several mechanisms (Sabate et al. 1993; Fraser, 1994). One of the reasons for such assumptions is due to its high dietary content, which is one of its nutrient contents that can contribute to overall heart health (Savage, 2000). Furthermore, walnuts are cholesterol-free but contain a substance that is related to phytosterols. This substance, along with fiber and its unsaturated fatty acids, is one of the possible justifiers of its cholesterol-lowering ability (Gobbo et. al. 2015).
Like Almonds, walnuts are also said to be low in sodium and rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium (Segura et. al 2006). These minerals are able to contribute to the regulation of one’s blood pressure and cellular metabolism (Ros et. al. 2018). Other significant nutrients in walnuts include vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, magnesium and phosphorus (Ros et. al. 2018). As such, this nut may be beneficial for cardiovascular health, reducing body weight, controlling diabetes and improvement in one’s cognitive abilities, particularly thinking skills (Ros et. al. 2018).
Health Benefits of Pistachios
Pistachios come from the Greek word, pistakion, which is translated as ‘the green nut.’ (Salas-Salvado´ et. al. 2011). While it is largely cultivated in the Mediterranean, reports contend that it may have originated in central and Southwest Asia (Salas-Salvado et. al. 2011).
According to research, pistachio was one of those nuts that were used as a folk remedy for many different ailments. Additionally, due to its lightweight characteristic and high nutritional value, it was carried by early explorers and even traders (Salas-Salvado et. al. 2011). Unlike almonds and walnuts, pistachios have a lower fat content. Its fat contents are reportedly more from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) (Halvorsen BL et. al. 2006). It also reportedly has a lower energy content than other nuts such as almonds and walnuts seeing that it has a lower fat content. However, it does have higher levels of fiber (both soluble and insoluble) which makes it very appealing for those that are on a weight loss journey. (Halvorsen BL et. al. 2006).
Other nutrients of pistachios include potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and xanthophyll carotenoids. Pistachio also contains vitamin K, phosphorus and zinc (Bullo et. al. 2015; USDA 2019). It is also listed as one of the top fifty (50) foods with a high antioxidant content (Halvorsen BL et. al. 2006). Importantly, it is one of the only nuts that have a significant amount of lutein and zeaxanthin (Halvorsen BL et. al. 2006) which make it excellent for eye health. It also has a good source of vegetable protein which is about twenty (20%) percent of its total weight (Satil et. al 2003).
To this extent, pistachio is said to be beneficial for cardiovascular health due to its positive impact on blood lipids. As such, research suggest that it may be able to reduce total cholesterol (Sari I, Baltac et. al. 2010; Gebauer S, et. al 2008). It is reportedly also able to fight inflammation and increase the body’s antioxidant potential (Kocyigit et. al. 2006) while still being an excellent addition to the diet of those that are on a weight control diet (Kirkmeyer and Mattes, 2000). Pistachios are also beneficial for blood pressure management due to their very high potassium content (USDA, 2012; Segura and Javierre, 2008 etc.) as well as having the potential to help modulate glycemic control which would be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes (Kochar et. al. 2010; Casas-Agustench et. al. 2011).
Health Benefits of Cashew
Cashew is a perennial plant that belongs to the Anacduacea family (Iqbal et. al. 2021). The tree usually grows in tropical climates like South America and Brazil (Iqbal et. al. 2021). However, it gained its importance worldwide during world war ll due to the extensive use of its by-product – the cashew nut shell liquid (Rico, Bullo et. Al. 2016).
Apart from having a pleasant flavour, cashew nuts are reportedly highly nutritious. As such, it is said to contain proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, fiber and fats, which contributes to it being a high energy food (Iqbal et. al. 2021). Its protein content is reportedly twenty-one (21%) percent more than that of almonds, hazelnut and walnuts (Iqbal et. al. 2021). It also contains vitamin E. Just one hundred (100) grams can yield about forty- six (46) mg of this vital antioxidant (Iqbal et. al. 2021).
One of the arguments against cashew nuts is their fat content. However, research suggests that most of its fatty acids are more of the unsaturated kind, which makes it purportedly beneficial for cardiovascular health, oxidative stress, inflammation, cholesterol and even diabetes (Cardoso et.al, 2017). Cashew is also able to significantly reduce one’s total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol (Fetuga et. al. 1975).
A Harvard study declared that it could be a strong agent for weight reduction, due to its low calories and high fiber content (Cordeiro, n.d). In fact, the research suggests that the fat from the tree nuts and olive oil were good agents for weight reduction.
Lastly, if you are concerned about skin aging, well, cashew might be one of those nuts to have in your wellness pantry. This is due to the fact, that research suggests that just consuming a few daily can help to protect the skin from acne, and skin damage as well as make it glow (and who wouldn’t want that!) (Hu et, al. 2001). It may also purportedly help with the re-mineralizing of the skin as well as premature aging (Layokun et. al. 1975).
Health Benefits of Peanuts
Oh yes! Peanuts are included in this list of nuts to have handy in your wellness pantry. Peanuts have gotten a bad rap over the years due to their touted high-fat contents. However, based on research, all nuts contain fat, with most being reportedly of the unsaturated kind (healthy fats), including peanuts (USDA; mayoclinic.org).
Peanuts, which are sometimes referred to as groundnut or monkey nuts, are small, oval-shaped nut which is part of the few domesticated grain legumes by mankind (FDA; ars.usda.gov). These flavourful and aromatic nuts, with a high oil content, are said to be a staple in many cuisines, particularly Indians. However, the nuts were theorized in some cases as being bad for heart health as it was said to increase one’s cholesterol levels. However, large population studies have purported that diets that are rich in peanuts, as well as peanut butter, were able to decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and even diabetes (Fraser, et al. 1992). In fact, just one (1) to one and a half (1 ½) ounces were shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by fifty (50%) percent as well as one’s risk of developing diabetes by twenty-five (25%) (Fraser, et al. 1992; Jiang R, et al, 2002). The benefits were even greater when the nuts were consumed five (5) or more times per week (Fraser, et al. 1992; Jiang R, et al, 2002).
While peanuts are said to be high in fat, research denotes that this fat is 100% cholesterol-free (USDA National Nutrient database). Therefore, peanuts are loaded with monounsaturated fats – a type of fat that reduces LDL or bad cholesterol and is thus heart-friendly (Feldman 1999). Studies have revealed that peanuts are an excellent source of nutrients such as resveratrol, phenolic acids, flavonoids and phytosterols that are able to block the body’s absorption of cholesterol when consumed (Arya et. al. 2016).
Other nutrients of peanuts include B-vitamins, vitamin E, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fiber and protein (Kris-Etherton et. al. 2001). It is also high in phytochemicals which are said to contribute to its protective effect on the body (Kris-Etherton et. al. 2001). It is also reportedly used in most developing countries to combat malnutrition (Arya et. al 2016 etc.). Peanuts may also improve memory (Parilli-Moser et. al. 2021) as well as help to maintain one’s blood sugar levels (Appel LJ, et al. 2005). As such, peanuts are high in nutrients and are even more affordable than most other nuts. To this extent, it is recommended that more research be conducted due to its important health benefits.
Nuts and Allergies – A Cautionary Tale!
While nuts do represent significant nutrition and health benefits, they can also trigger severe or even fatal allergic reactions in some persons who consume them. One of the nuts that have been labelled as the most allergic is peanuts. This is because it is one of the most prevalent nuts (Skolnick et. al. 2001). In fact, peanuts allergy reportedly contributes to about fifty-nine (59%) percent of deaths caused by food allergies (Bock et. al. 2007). In addition, almonds, while considered healthy, may also induce IgE-mediated adverse allergic reactions in individuals that are susceptible to this type of condition (Chen et al. 2006). As such, the nut allergy varies from nuts to nuts and can range from minor to fatal.
While many food Scientists have or continue to conduct studies to reduce the allergenicity of nuts, particularly peanuts and peanut-derived products, it remains a cause for concern. Therefore, more clinical studies are needed for it and all nuts in general. As such, it is best to know your risk and avoid them if needed.
How to add these nuts to your diet
Nuts are generally eaten as a snack – raw or roasted. You can also enjoy them in a paste formats such as peanut butter or almond butter. Nuts can also be enjoyed in pastries, special cuisines, in smoothies, sprinkled in salads or be a topping on your favourite desserts (i.e., ice cream).
Here is a summary of the Five (5) MUST HAVE NUTS for your Health and Wellness Pantry!
Let’s Sum Up!
Nuts are a rich source of nutrients including protein, fiber, phenolic acids, and fats among other compounds plus vitamins and minerals. The five (5) nuts expounded in this article are among some of the best nuts that you should keep handy or stored in your wellness pantry. These include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashew and peanuts.
These nuts can be eaten raw or roasted or enjoyed in some of the most popular formats – nut butter, paste or oils. To this extent, while there have been, and will continue to be debates about nuts, particularly those of higher fat contents, research has shown that most of the fats in nuts are those of the unsaturated kind, which is excellent for heart health in general. As such, it is largely recommended that nuts be a part of our daily diet. But with all seemingly good things, it must be eaten in moderation so as to reap the benefits. Also, those who are allergic to nuts, should try to avoid them and hence get the nutrients of these healthful foods, from other food kinds.
So, have you ever consumed any of these nuts before? How was it! Or which do you have in your pantry right now? How do you enjoy these nuts? Share it nuh!
You can read more on some additional nutritional powerhouses by checking out these articles:
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