October 21st is National Nut Day. It’s a good opportunity to think about these nutrition power players, and if you don’t already include them in your diet, it’s time to add some in.
There’s good research to suggest that people who eat nuts regularly have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. That doesn’t mean going crazy on them though – a small 30g handful a day is enough to get benefits.
Nuts all have slightly different nutrition properties, but they all contain healthy fats, antioxidants and fibre. And some nuts have extra added benefits. For example, Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of the antioxidant mineral selenium, which can help prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Just two to three nuts a day provide 100 per cent of your recommended daily amount of selenium, which can be hard to get elsewhere. (If you are eating them every day, no more than two or three is recommended; it’s possible to have too much selenium.)
Walnuts are particularly rich in natural plant omega-3s, including the essential fatty acid alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA). These are also associated with lots of health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke.
How you use nuts in your diet is limited only by your imagination. Of course they make great snacks. But I prefer them in my main meals – scattered through a vege-packed slaw; sprinkled over steamed greens; included in stir-fries for extra texture. Pesto can be made with any nuts, too – try walnut and rocket, or almond and watercress. Nut butters are an excellent way of getting your nutty goodness. If you have a reasonably grunty blender you can make your own, combining your favourite nuts together for a personal blend.
It’s worth keeping in mind that nuts are quite energy dense – in other words, they pack a lot of calories into a small package. A handful of almonds (about 25) has around 700kJ, which is a substantial snack – equivalent to a couple of small bananas. Think of that when you see sweet treats made from nuts. They may be vegan and raw, but they can also be pretty energy dense, especially if they also contain dates and coconut.
It also pays to note that not all nuts are kind to people with gut issues. If you suffer from IBS, steer clear of cashews and pistachios (these are high in FODMAPs), and keep servings of almonds and hazelnuts small.