Did you know that a peanut is not actually a nut? Yep, that’s right, your good old faithful peanut has been lying to you all these years! It’s actually a legume, as unlike its other nutty counterparts, peanuts grow in the ground not on a tree. So why are they called peaNUTS and generally classified as a nut? Well the the International Nut and Dried Fruit Foundation recognises that the nutritional composition of the peanut is so similar to that of tree nuts that is is only practical that it be included in this group!
So what are the nutritional characteristics of nuts that make so more-ish and yet so good for us at the same time?
Well perhaps a little uncharacteristic of foods that are of plant origin, nuts contain moderate amounts of protein (9–20%) and they also contain large quantities of fat (49–74% total fat)! Wait a minute..how can something that is so high in fat be good for us???? Well basically the fats found in nuts are mostly monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which are known as the “good” fats that help fight heart disease by lowering our cholesterol levels. Not only are they good for our hearts but nuts are also a great source of dietary fibre and provide a wide range of essential nutrients, including several B group vitamins, vitamin E, minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium, antioxidant minerals (selenium, manganese and copper), plus other antioxidant compounds (such as flavonoids and resveratrol)..the compounds also found in red wine!
Upon munching my way through a handful of raw nuts this morning I started thinking about just how many different types of nuts there are out there…we have macadamias, walnuts, brazil nuts and cashews, we have pistachios and almonds and pecans, pinenuts and hazelnuts oh and of course there is the sneaky “peanut” who we will call a distant cousin of the nut family for now! When talking about nuts and their health benefits I am often asked what are the BEST nuts for you so I thought I would share with you my pick of the top 5 best nuts for you!
1. Walnuts – While all nuts offer heart health benefits, Walnuts certainly take the cake as one of the best for us! Walnuts contain by far the most significant amount of all nuts of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a compound that helps reduce plaque buildup in arteries and fights heart disease. Just one-quarter cup of walnuts gives you nearly 91 percent of the recommended daily value for this healthy fat. Your body cannot make omega-3 fats on its own, which is why it’s so important to include omega-3-rich foods in your diet. Aside from their heart health benefits, Walnuts also contain the antioxidant ellagic acid, which helps support our immune systems.
2. Almonds – It’s nuts how much nutrition is packed into these little bite sized morsels! Almonds are high in calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, copper, protein and vitamin E. They contain more vitamin E than any other nut, with around 20 almonds providing almost half your daily vitamin E needs! Due to their high protein content Almonds help to keep you full and prevent hunger cravings that all too often result in you reaching for the chocolate cupboard at around 3 oclock each day! And to top off their endless list of health benefits, almonds are also high in antioxidants! Yay for almonds!
3. Hazelnuts – These are another fantastic type of nut, as they are rich in heart healthy nutrients such as vitamin E, folate, B vitamins and arginine, which all work together to reduce our risk of heart disease! Hazelnuts are also rich in iron and proanthocyanidins, which is really just a complicated name for a type of antioxidants that help to strengthen our blood vessels and prevent urinary tract infections!
4. Brazil Nuts – A single Brazil nut provides your daily dose of selenium, an antioxidant that fights free radicals and may play a role in preventing breast cancer. Brazil nuts are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Pecans – Firslty, Pecans have the highest antioxidant content among alllll nuts, which means they are most likely beneficial in lowering your risk of cancer, heart disease and perhaps even Alzheimer’s Disease! They are extremely high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that plays an important role in helping stop oxidation of blood lipids (fats) in our blood vessels and therefore may help prevent coronary heart disease! These little gems also contain more than 19 essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, magnesium, folic acid and calcium among others, making them an ideal mid morning snack..or any time of day really!
Other great nut choices include:
Pistachios – which are high in cholesterol lowering plant sterols and have more potassium than most nuts, playing a role in the regulation of blood pressure!
Cashews – have a lower fat content than a number of other types of nuts, and the fat they do contain is extremely healthy with about 75 percent being comprised of oleic acid, the same type of heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. They are also a fantastic source of magnesium, which is a nutrient that plays a crucial role in many biochemical reactions in the body including maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, regulating blood sugar levels, promoting normal blood pressure and heart rhythm and also supporting our immune systems and keeping our bones strong and healthy!
Macadamias – ahhh the old macca nut! Long been hailed a “not so healthy” choice of nut due to their extremely high fat content these delectable little Aussie icons contain very high levels of the monounsaturated fats (the good fats) and have been shown to help prevent oxidative stress and inflammation! So as long as your not devouring a pack a day these babies, they can be included as part of a healthy balanced diet when eaten in small amounts! Phhhewww!
And the other question I am often asked..are raw nuts really better for me than roasted??
Well though the jury is still out on this one, in my opinion it is always better to eat foods in their most natural state to ensure you get the most nutrients out of your food as possible! Though some preliminary studies have shown very little difference in the nutrient content of raw and roasted nuts, roasting may potentially reduce the concentration of several B group vitamins (as they are not heat stable). Other studies have also suggested that roasting nuts changes their overall fat composition, destroying some of the heart healthy properties of the nuts! Additionally, many roasted nut varieties are salted and therefore have a higher sodium content than raw nuts. So yes, in my opinion raw is definitely better for you! If you only like like the roasted varieties however, choose those that are only lightly roasted (or roast them yourself) and avoid those that are salted!
So, so far we have concluded that although they are high in fat, nuts are a great snack and should definitely be included as part of healthy balanced diet due to their wide range of health benefits.. but how do we know how many nuts constitutes a serve?
Well according to Nutrition Australia the following can be used as a rough guide to determine an average serve size (usually 30-50g) of the many different types of nuts…
A health-promoting daily intake of 30–50 grams of nuts is about one small handful.
30 g of nuts corresponds to approximately:
•2 tbsp pine nuts
•60 pistachios in shells (30 g of kernels)
•10 whole walnuts or 20 walnut halves
•a small handful of mixed nuts
Happy Munching Everyone!