Get nutty for nuts — the health benefits of this superfood

Growing up, nuts were not really part of my diet other than eating them in a trail mix or at Christmas time. However I have found that in the past few years, I have learned to use them in other ways and really appreciate what they have to offer for our health and wellbeing, unless of course you have a nut allergy that is.

There are many components to having a balanced and varied diet, as shown with the Mediterranean diet, where nuts play an important role. They are known to help reduce your bad cholesterol, to help lower inflammation, and reduce the risk of developing blood clots. So, you can see that introducing nuts into your diet can be beneficial for your health in so many ways. This week I will be discussing the nutritional value of nuts as they contain valuable phytochemical, healthy Omega 3 fats, fiber, and many vitamins that you may not be aware of. I will also discuss simple ways in which you can introduce them into your diet.

Although nuts are extremely good for your health, as they are relatively high in fat (about 80 per cent) it is important to not overindulge. As a rule of thumb, a portion would be equivalent to a handful. As with any other fruits or vegetables, nuts contain very important phytochemicals, phyto – originating from the Greek – plant. These phytochemicals are responsible for giving plants their color and flavour. They also support the body against toxins that we may encounter and, they are able to act as antioxidants protecting our cells from the bad guys (free radicals). Some free radicals are as a result of normal chemical reactions within the body, others are as a result of tobacco smoke, air pollution and the beauty products that we use on our skin. These phytochemicals also play a vital part in supporting our immune system.

Furthermore, nuts contain Omega 3 fatty acids which are very beneficial for our general heath, our immune system and heart health. They are also a great source of fiber which not only helps to regulate blood sugar levels but also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Fiber is also great at feeding the good bacteria in your gut, which helps to support your digestive system and therefore increases the absorption of nutrients into the body. Nuts are also a good source of protein, which is why it makes them ideal as a snack when you are feeling hungry.

When we think of vitamins and minerals in food sources, most people tend to think of fruits and vegetables, however nuts are also a great source of vitamins with some containing more than others. For example, almonds contain more calcium than other nuts, making them ideal for those looking to maintain or improve their bone and muscle strength, they are also higher in protein, making them a good alternative for those looking to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy. Cashews on the other hand are higher in iron, a key element in the production of red blood cells and vitamin A, which is very important in maintaining healthy eyes. Hazelnuts are lower in fat than cashews but are still a good source of protein.

Nuts really are a great food to have in your home, they are easy to store, inexpensive and can be eaten on the go or quickly added to a meal for that extra crunch. We often tend to think of nuts mostly as a snack option, but I find that they can be used in all sorts of ways as they really are so versatile.

One of my favourite ways is adding them to a stir fry, as they give it that extra crunch and a touch color to the meal. Personally, I like to use almonds, I chop up a handful  and just add them a few minutes before I serve up the meal so that they do not go soft and soggy on me.

If you are looking to add a little protein to your baking, they can also be chopped and added to cakes and muffins, I tend to use hazelnuts and I find that they do particularly  well in a chocolate cake! I also like using hazelnuts in this fennel salad and eating it with some grilled chicken, it is a simple and delicious meal.

As we transition from spring to summer, I enjoy chopping a mixture of nuts and adding them to soups or salads as they just give it that extra crunch and flavour.

As always when buying anything that comes packaged it is important to read the labels, when buying nuts, it is preferable to buy the ones that are raw or dry roasted, unsalted, and not cooked in oil. 

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Photo: Tetiana Bykovets, Unsplash