In a nutshell: Here’s how nuts and seeds can boost your health and prevent illness
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts all contain a host of healthful nutrients. Here’s what our nutritionist has to say about the best nuts and seeds for good health
Among plant foods, nuts and seeds have a high level of antioxidants. They are rich in protein, fat and micronutrients. They are also very high in fibre.
Many studies show that nuts and seeds can help lower cholesterol and support many systems within your body. They can also be used in many ways. You can simply eat them as a snack or soak them and make dairy-free milk.
Think of nuts as power punches. Before I take you through what some of the common nuts and seeds specifically contain, and how you can use them, I also need to mention some areas of caution.
Are nuts good for everyone?
When it comes to nuts, not everyone can digest them. If you have inflammatory conditions, then you need to nurture your gut. Until you are able to digest nuts and seeds without any digestive distress, you might need to avoid them.
You also need to be aware of the fact that nuts can be very high in oxalates. If you are suddenly replacing all flours with almond flour thinking that it is healthier, think again. They can cause health issues if you have joint pains, arthritis or high uric acid levels.
This does not mean that nuts are not good for you. It just means that the benefits lie in moderation, not in excess.
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Almonds are a rich source of zinc, magnesium and potassium, and really high in vitamin E. Vitamin E supports brain health, skin suppleness, cardiovascular health and respiratory health. They are also great in lowering cholesterol, since they are rich in monounsaturated fats.
The fibre in almonds helps stabilise your blood sugar too. Eating 10-15 almonds a day is beneficial but anything more can be problematic.
Soaking them helps to release the phytates which are antinutrients and can cause digestive distress. Discard the soaked water before eating the nuts. The skin is rich in flavonoids which works with Vitamin E to double the antioxidant power! You can blend soaked almonds with water to make almond milk. Skip the store-bought ones which have thickeners, emulsifiers and preservatives.
Contrary to popular belief, cashews are not unhealthy nuts. They are only unhealthy if you eat them fried in bad fats and packaged with tons of salt, flavouring and preservatives.
Cashews are also rich in monounsaturated fats and contain ALA, the plant-based omega 3. They are really high in magnesium and contain calcium, iron, zinc and folate. All these nutrients are great for hormonal and bone health. These nutrients also help with the formation of collagen, which is required for more than just the skin.
Collagen is needed for healthy joints and connective tissues, as well as for gut and brain health. When it comes to PMS, one of the best things to eat is cashews. Remember not to overdo them and skip the ones which are processed. Toast them with ghee and add some chaat masala or make them into a paste to thicken curries, smoothies and soups.
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Walnuts are synonymous with brain health! Walnuts look like a mini brain, and they are rich in omega 3. ALA or alpha-linolenic acid helps reduce LDL cholesterol.
They also contain tocopherols, the active form of vitamin E, which includes alpha, delta and gamma tocopherols. Vitamin E helps reduce cancer risk and helps maintain connective tissue and healthy skin. Walnuts are also rich in serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter hormone, which helps you feel less anxious and more calm, peaceful and happy.
Walnuts are great in salads but you need to store walnuts in a cool dry space. They turn rancid soon, which means the fats in them get oxidised. They taste best with bananas as you can see with banana walnut breads.
Seeds are definitely easier to digest than nuts, so they are more suitable to many. Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, which is a great antioxidant, and it protects cells from damage and oxidative stress.
Simply put, this means that they help you look and stay younger. Sunflower seeds also contain B vitamins which support liver detoxification and healthy immunity.
Sunflower seeds are wonderful to eat during the luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle, as they are rich in zinc and support progesterone production. Eat them raw, toasted, blended into a dip or a smoothie, or even in salads.
Prime pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, vitamin B, magnesium, iron and protein. They have a high level of fatty acids that support cardiovascular function and improve blood circulation.
Combined with flax seeds in the follicular phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle, they help estrogen metabolism. They are also called pepitas. Due to their high fat content, the chances of them going rancid are higher. Avoid storing them for too long.
Store them in a cool space and eat them as fresh as possible. They pair great as a base to pesto and you can combine them with a variety of leafy greens and herbs. Their nutty flavor is wonderful, and simply toasting them with some chilli powder and salt makes them a great snack for children.
Make nuts a part of your diet
As you can see, nuts and seeds are rich sources of protein, fibre, fats, iron, omega 3 and wide range of nutrients. Sprouting them make them less capable of harming your body, and improves their bioavailability, as sprouting converts the starch to slow release carbohydrates.
Including nuts and seeds in moderation is the best way to enjoy all the health benefits of these superfoods. Eating them in excess is surely asking for some trouble.
(Images credit: Shutterstock)
(Edited by Asha Chowdary)
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