We are nuts about nuts - but not all nuts are equal!
When it comes to using nuts in a balanced plant-rich diet, we may encounter different opinions from the camps of nut supporters like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, or nut shunners like Dr. John McDougall. Therefore it’s important to understand that the benefit of consuming nuts depends on your own individual state of health and your health goals! For example, soaked nuts can be a wonderful nutritional powerhouse for most people, however, the complex composition of the nuts and their density can make it difficult for cancer patients to digest them and some patients should avoid them.
The information shared below is generic and from reputable resources, and while I personally have great experiences with nuts, but please do not consider the below as medical advice and consult with your certified healthcare provider before you embark on any dietary changes.
1. Rule of eating nuts for health benefits: nuts should always be consumed raw or slowly dehydrated, but never toasted, salted or processed. A raw nut is a living food that has all the vital nutritional content we are looking for, while a toasted or processed nut may taste better but is nutritionally inferior. Also consider that the roasting process creates carcinogens, especially when over-roasting happens, which is often the case for peanuts.
2. Why should you soak your raw nuts? Soaking nuts in filtered water changes their molecular structure, as the nut “lets its guard down” to prepare for sprouting and giving new life. All nuts have phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, and eliminating these is important, as nuts are otherwise hard to digest and can interfere with nutrient absorption in the gut. That’s why it’s vital that your nuts are raw and soaked or sprouted if you wish to receive their full nutritional benefits!
To prepare, soak your nuts overnight in a room temperature or warm spot, then rinse them well and use immediately. If you have more than you need, dry the soaked nuts thoroughly and store them in a closed container in the fridge for a few days. Caution: soaked nuts can develop mold, especially cashews and peanuts, so make sure you don’t store them in the fridge too long!
3. Are dehydrated nuts as good as raw, soaked nuts? Yes, low temperature dehydration also breaks down the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors in the nuts and greatly increases their nutrient content. Another advantage is that they tend to hold much longer in storage then after water soaking.
4. How many nuts per day should you eat? The rule of thumb is maximum a handful per day, as nuts are rich in fat and over consumption can impact your weight.
Let's explore the benefits and do's and don'ts of the most common nuts:
· Almonds are rich in antioxidants, fiber, protein, fat, vitamin E, manganese and magnesium. In one study, people ate either almonds or a snack with a similar fat profile each day for four weeks, and the subjects who ate almonds showed reduced oxidative stress markers. Depending on which health outcome you're looking for, a mere 10-60 g of almonds incorporated into your diet can ameliorate type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, eye issues, lower LDL cholesterol and many other health conditions.
Note: Unfortunately, most US-grown almonds have undergone a mandatory sterilization process, which can be anything from oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam processing, irradiation, and shockingly the use of propylene oxide (PPO). We learned that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods’ “raw” almonds are steam treated, which may be among the healthiest option of the lot. If you can get your hands on non-US almonds that have no treatment requirements, it would be the best.
How to enjoy them: soak almonds overnight, rinse well and then consume in everything from breakfast oats or smoothies or chop & sprinkle over salads, broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Of course you can also milk almonds well or simply blend for a delicious drink or creamer!
· Walnuts – are low in carbohydrates and have the highest antioxidant and omega 3 levels, making these the healthiest nuts for your brain. They also contain copper, folic acid, phosphorus, vitamin B6, vitamin E and manganese. They benefit heart health and bones and may have the ability to dilate blood vessels, indicating better blood pressure regulation. There is also evidence that walnuts may suppress cancer cell growth.
How to enjoy them: soak walnuts overnight, rinse well and then add in and on pretty much everything! A breakfast of fruits and chopped walnuts or as salad toppers, or blend into our own delicious walnut spread with spices!
· Brazil Nuts – high in good fat and low in carbohydrates, they can lower bad cholesterol levels fast and maintain this over a sustained time. Brazil nuts are also a rich source of selenium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc, thiamin and vitamin E. Their benefits include thyroid function, immune system function and heart health.
How to enjoy them: soak Brazil nuts overnight, rinse well and then simply eat them chopped as toppers for everything, or eat one whole Brazil nut per day, as they are large and filling and make for a good snack. Go easy on any more, as they are very potent selenium providers and one is good per day!
· Cashew nuts - Although cashews are one of the lowest-fiber, highest carbohydrate nuts, they are also lower in fat than most other nuts with mainly heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. In addition, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants including vitamins E, K, and B-6, copper, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium, all of which are important for a variety of bodily functions.
How to enjoy them: soak cashews at least 6 hours and rinse well. Use them right away to make soups, dips and creams that can benefit from a creamy consistency. They are great for cheese and dessert making too!
· Pistachios and Mediterranean pine nuts have the highest plant sterol content of all the nuts. Plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, and help to lower cholesterol levels. Pistachios reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and can help regulating blood sugar. Apart from healthy fats they are rich in fiber and vitamin B6 and contain magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and thiamin.
How to enjoy them: soak pistachios overnight and rinse well. Use them on anything that likes a nutty taste and my favorite flavor is in salads or on melons in combination with cardamom. Of course they are perfect for desserts and snacks as well!
· Peanuts - Peanuts are technically legumes and they are slightly inferior than the other nuts from a health perspective. If you can find a good source of peanuts and eat them raw & soaked, they are still high in nutrients and protective fats for the heart.
A concern is that peanuts are often roasted, so their benefits are vastly diminished by the roasting process, which also adds carcinogens. In addition, they can contain mold or aflatoxins, the latter being a poisonous substance which is a potent liver carcinogen. On top of that, peanuts are higher in proteins of the cupin, prolamin, and profilin families, which can lead to allergic reactions. We suggest you look for a good US-source for peanuts as US crops are tested for aflatoxins.
How to enjoy them: soak peanuts overnight and rinse well. Use them for all your peanutty desires, such as snacks, dressings, sauces, butters and snacks.