by Marcus O’Neill MSc RD
Nuts are a staple in diets throughout the world. They are popular in Middle Eastern cuisines where they’re often included in mezzes, desserts and other sweets. But from a nutritional perspective, how much do you really know about them?
Nutritional Benefits of Nuts
There is a lot of nutrition packed into these little gems. Nuts are high in protein, fibre, monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s) and numerous vitamins and minerals. It’s no wonder that a diet including a variety of nuts has been shown to promote good heart and gastrointestinal health as well as reduce the risk for developing certain types of cancer.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of certain kinds of nuts:
Almonds – Almonds are high in calcium, which makes them a great option if you are unable to consume dairy products. They are also a good source of vitamin E and contain high amounts of flavonoids.
Peanuts – Peanuts are one of the most versatile nuts out there. They are loaded with protein and are an excellent source of niacin and manganese.
Walnuts – Walnuts are packed with antioxidants, particularly Omega 3 fatty acids, which means they’re great for reducing your risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Pistachios – Pistachios are the only nuts that contain lutein and zeaxanthin; two antioxidants that play an important role in good eye health. They are also high in vitamin B6 and potassium.
Hazelnuts – Hazelnuts are a great source of folate, which is an important vitamin for promoting good heart health. Folate is important for pregnant women as it minimizes the potential of certain birth defects.
When it comes to eating nuts, there are a few things you should note. First, by volume nuts are quite high in calories. Depending on the type, ¼ cup (60ml) of nuts contain anywhere from 160 to 250 calories. This is certainly something to keep in mind if your goal is weight loss.
Another potential problem with nuts is that they’re often mixed into foods that are loaded with sugar, fat and sodium. Trying to increase your intake of nuts by eating things like baklava with pistachios, chocolate covered almonds, bbq-spiced peanuts or Nutella often defeats the purpose of eating nuts in the first place.
Let’s not forget the prevalence of nut allergies here. Nut allergies are one of the most common food allergies that exist. If you suspect you may be allergic, it is important to avoid consuming nuts and be tested by your doctor.
Best Ways to Eat Nuts
To get the most nutritional benefit of nuts without the downside of added sugar, fat and/or sodium, try incorporating unsalted nuts into salads, stir fries or curries. You can also add nuts to plain yogurt, with a touch of honey or fresh fruit for a tasty breakfast or even dessert. If you’re less adventurous (or skilled) in the kitchen feel free to eat a small handful of nuts along with a piece of fruit for a snack. And finally, nut butters (ie. peanut butter) and milks (ie. almond milk) are a great option for those who find nuts alone unpalatable.
The bottom line is nuts are a great way to get more protein, fibre and healthy fat in your diet. Just keep in mind the total calories and try to minimize the amount of added sugar, fat and sodium you’re getting along with your nut intake.
Marcus O’Neill is a Registered Dietitian from Canada, currently residing in Maadi. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or you can follow him via Twitter (@marcusoneillrd), or his website (www.dietitianabroad.com).