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Know Your Fruits and Veggies™:Nuts and Seeds
By Dawn Swidorski, Public Outreach Director
Nuts and seeds are the embryos of plants and various trees which contain all the genetic information and nutrients needed to grow a new plant. They are a natural and tasty snack food that gives you energy as well as good health.
Nuts are very healthy and nutritious. In addition to being excellent sources of protein, nuts and seeds have many other benefits such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other phytochemicals that act as antioxidants. They contain many minerals such as magnesium, zinc, calcium and phosphorus needed for bone development, immunity and energy production. Nuts and seeds are the richest source of vitamin E, which is needed to make red blood cells and muscle tissue. Most nuts and seeds are rich in potassium, niacin and B Vitamins. Almonds, pistachios, flax seed, pumpkin seed and sesame seeds are very high in iron. A cup of almonds, Brazil nuts, filberts, or pistachios, or an ounce of sesame seeds, contains as much calcium as a cup of milk.
Nuts and seeds are one of the best plant sources of protein and are high in essential amino acids making them an important part of any vegan or vegetarian's diet. An ounce of nuts provides 6 g of protein on average. However, they lack lysine, an essential amino acid necessary to make a complete protein. Only peanuts, technically a legume, contain lysine. By adding peanuts along with the other nuts, you are assured of complete protein.
Some people, particularly those on low fat diets, may be hesitant to eat nuts because they are high in fat. However, these are the good fats that your body needs. They contain healthy monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats that do not clog blood vessels with fatty plaque and are essential in managing inflammation.
Multiple studies have shown nuts have the ability to reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol and slash heart attack risk by as much as 39 percent in some people. These studies show it’s the combination of monounsaturated fats and protective plant compounds known as flavonoids in nuts that work in synergy with vitamin E to protect artery walls from damage reducing the risk of heart disease.
According to research at the University of Toronto, eating heart-healthy foods, including almonds, can help reduce LDL, or the bad cholesterol levels, as much as a first-line statin drug.
Nuts are also a slow-burning food and studies show they may help people lose weight. Eating nuts can provide a sense of fullness and satisfaction that causes you to eat less of other high-calorie, high fat foods such as chips or baked goods.
NOTE: One of the disadvantages of nuts, is they cause an allergic reaction in some people. If, by some chance, you have never consumed a nut, do so in very small quantities to determine if you will have an allergic reaction. Any allergic reaction will occur within minutes of consumption.
The type and severity of symptoms varies from individual to individual and may include: vomiting, diarrhea, pain in the abdomen, swelling of lips, and throat leading to breathing difficulty, and chest congestion. Therefore, caution should be exercised in those with nut allergic syndrome while using food preparations that contain nut products.
Types of Nuts and Seeds
Botanically, almonds are the fruit from a species of tree belonging to the Rose family. The almond tree is a small deciduous tree, native to West-Asian mountain ranges.
Almonds are a good source of protein, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), and phosphorus. Almonds are also high in protein; a quarter-cup contains more protein than the typical egg. Whole almonds (with skins) provide the most heart-healthy benefits. They provide a rich source of protein, the antioxidant selenium, Vitamin E, and the minerals magnesium, potassium, calcium, and copper, as well as B vitamins, especially folic acid.
Brazil nuts are native to South America and are related to blueberries, cranberries, tea and persimmon. Brazil nuts are not commercially cultivated and are gathered by local workers when ready. Brazil nuts contain high levels of the antioxidant selenium. These nuts are extremely nutrient-rich containing protein, copper, niacin, magnesium, fiber, and vitamin E.
Cashews are really seeds that are part of the bottom of the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree found in tropical America. Cashews are a good source of monounsaturated fats, copper, and a good source of magnesium and phosphorous. They are also rich in copper, iron, zinc and biotin. Cashews have the lowest percentage of fats compared to most nuts. An added bonus: 75% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids and, 75% of this unsaturated fat content is oleic acid, the Omega-9 essential fatty acid, the same fat found in olive oil and avocado.
Chestnuts come from a tree or shrub in the Beech family and are native to Asia and North America. Nutritionally, chestnuts possess almost similar nutrition composition as that of other staple foods such as sweet potato, corn, and potatoes consisting mainly of starch. However, the nuts also contain high quality protein. They are the only "nuts" that contain vitamin C and are an excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. Chestnuts are also rich in folates, niacin, thiamine and riboflavin.
Filbert or Hazelnut
Hazel nuts are the seed of hazel trees and have been cultivated in Europe since Roman times. Hazelnuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat. Moreover, they contain significant amounts of thiamine and vitamin B6, as well as smaller amounts of other B vitamins.
Pecans are a species of hickory tree and are native to the Southern portion of the U.S. and parts of Mexico. Pecans are a good source of protein and contain over 19 minerals and vitamins including folic acid, vitamin B, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, and zinc.
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of the pine tree. Although all pine nuts are edible only about 20 varieties of pine tree produce seeds large enough to harvest commercially. They are small elongated ivory-colored seeds from pine cones, measuring about 1/2 inch. Raw, the seeds have a soft texture and a sweet, buttery flavor. They are often lightly toasted to bring out the flavor and to add crunch. They supply all amino acids and provide significant amounts of vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
Pistachio nuts are native to the Middle East and were commonly eaten as early as 6750 BC. Pistachios are an excellent source of vitamin E, B6, copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. They are also a good source of phosphorus and magnesium.
Native to Eastern Australia, only two of the species: Macadamia integrifolia and Macadamia tetraphylla, are edible. Macadamias are rich in iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and Calcium. They also contain significant levels of, Zinc Copper Selenium. The most significant vitamins are: 6 Vitamin E Thiamine (B1) Riboflavin (B2) Niacin, pantothenic acid (B5) and folate.
NOTE: Never feed your dog macadamia nuts! They are toxic to dogs and can cause tremors, difficulty standing, even paralysis.
Walnuts – Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and are also an important source of healthy (monounsaturated) fats. Walnuts are also a good source of manganese, and copper. Walnuts also have bio-available melatonin, which helps regulate sleep. Walnuts also contain l-arginine, which is an essential amino acid that the body uses to produce nitric oxide, necessary for keeping blood vessels flexible. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating walnuts after a meal high in unhealthy fats can reduce the damaging effects of such fats on blood vessels.
Flax seeds, also known as linseeds, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seeds are also rich in fiber and manganese and are a good source of folate, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), magnesium, phosphorous, and copper, and lignan phytonutrients. You'll need to grind them up first (or purchase ground flax seed) to gain the most nutritional benefits.
The poppy plant is a biennial herb native to the East Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Poppy seeds are harvested from the ripe poppy flower and are used in the cuisines of many nations.
The seeds are excellent source B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. Poppy seeds also contain good levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium.
Note: Dried poppy seeds contain very small levels of opium alkaloids and if consumed in large enough quantities on a regular basis may show positive for opiates in a drug test.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas are a good source of the essential fatty acids, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, and copper, protein, and vitamin K. Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acids alanin, glycin and glutamic acid. They contain high quantities of protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium.
Sesame plant is a tall annual herb native to Asia. Sesame seeds are rich in beneficial minerals including a very good source of manganese and copper, but they are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1 (thiamin), zinc, dietary fiber, and healthy (monosaturated) fats. They contain powerful antioxidants called lignans, phytosterols, and one lignan unique to sesame seeds called sesamin. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are ground or pulverized before consumption. Sesame seed are rich in calcium and vitamin E.
Sunflower plant is a tall, erect, herbaceous annual plant belonging to the aster family. Sunflower seeds come from the sunflower. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E and linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), dietary fiber, protein, and minerals such as magnesium and selenium, and are high in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, selenium, calcium and zinc.
Peanuts (technically a legume)
Americans eat over 600 million pounds of peanuts a year and more than 700 million pounds of peanut butter!
Peanuts are a rich source of protein, vitamin B, thiamine, folate (folic acid, B9), and Niacin. Also contains vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorous, potassium and zinc. Peanuts are a significant source of resveratrol, an antioxidant flavonoid that is anti-aging. Peanuts actually contain almost 30 times as much resveratrol as grapes. They are a good source of the monosaturated fat, oleic acid, found in olive oil.
Raw peanuts, especially raw ones, are stored in a cool, dry, environment (such as a refrigerator or freezer), as an extremely toxic and highly dangerous fungus (aflatoxin) can easily grow on peanuts when the temperature is between 86-96°F (30-36°C) and humidity is high.
Some people who may be allergic to the peanut should try the Valencia peanut as it is free of the allergen found in most other peanut varieties.
Tips on Storing Nuts
Refrigerate, for up to a month, or freeze, in a sealed container for several months, out-of-the shell nuts because their oil quickly turns rancid. You can find a good assortment of nuts and seeds at your local health food store and in the produce department of your local grocery store. Unsalted is best but some nuts are better with salt, like pistachios and cashews.
Instead of grabbing a muffin for a mid-morning pick-up, grab a handful of nuts or seeds, and in twenty minutes or less you will have the energy you need to get you through the day until lunch.
Nuts and seeds should be an essential addition to anyone’s diet. They not only provide good nutrition and energy but they also protect us from heart disease, cancer, and weight gain.
Updated March 20, 2012
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