Go nuts! Nuts and seeds are good for you.

Feeling guilty about that snack of mixed nuts you just couldn’t deny? Well, believe it or not – there are good reasons to make nuts and seeds an essential part of your everyday diet.

For many years, nuts and seeds have been given a bad name for being high in fat. Thank goodness this myth has been debunked by American nutty professors and scientists alike, in at least five different studies, showing the impact of nuts and seeds on heart health. Here’s the lowdown on our top ten nuts and seeds and why we’re simply nutty about them!

Nutty all-rounder almonds
Not only do almonds have a wonderful flavour, but they also help to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and reduce the risk of heart disease, says Pick n Pay dietitian, Teresa Del Fabbro. “They are also rich in vitamin E, an anti-oxidant that helps to prevent oxidation in cell membranes and other tissues, and are a useful source of calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth and keeps them strong,” she says. 

Good night hazzzzzZZZZZZZZelnuts
Hazelnuts are no doubt a firm favourite for chocolatiers, but they are also noted for being a good bedtime snack. High in the amino acid tryptophan, you will be guaranteed more Zs during the night!  In addition, although hazelnuts are relatively high in fat, they are also significantly high in anti-oxidants that can protect against several types of cancer. 

Lean, mean, green pistachios
“Pistachios are relatively low in kilojoules compared to other nuts,” says Del Fabbro. “They are also a good source of fibre, protein, anti-oxidants and mono-unsaturated fatty acids which help to lower cholesterol levels.” For the health conscious, it is best to snack on unsalted, raw pistachios and not the salted, oil-roasted version. 

Wonderful walnuts 
A study published in the journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2006, showed that eating walnuts after a fatty meal helped to reduce the effects of clogging up the blood vessels. Other studies have also shown that eating walnuts can help your cardiovascular system, help improve brain functioning, protect your bones and even prevent gallstones. They also contain melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep. 

Chew on a few cashews
Originating from Brazil, cashews contain iron, which is essential for red blood cell function, as well as magnesium for energy and bone growth, phosphorus for strong teeth and bones, zinc for digestion and metabolism, and selenium, which helps to protect the body from cancer. Cashews also help to promote a healthy heart.

Cancer-crunching pecans
Perhaps best known for their role in the delicious pecan-pie, pecan nuts are also a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals. “Because they are quite high in calories, pecan nuts should be eaten in moderation,” says Del Fabbro. “Pecan nuts also have anti-cancer effects and are also a good source of vitamin E.” 

Marvellous mouth-watering macadamias
Macadamia trees were first grown for their ornamental value, until someone discovered how delicious the nut was! Nutritionally, Macadamias are a rich source of B-complex vitamins, for metabolism, and fibre, for healthy digestion. Even though it has a relatively high kilojoule count compared to other nuts and must be eaten moderately, it contains anti-oxidants, which decreases the risk of certain types of cancer. 

Leading little linseed 
“Linseeds may help manage menopausal symptoms, and they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Del Fabbro. “Rich in fibre, they can also help to relieve constipation and regulate the digestive system.”  Because linseeds are small, it is a good idea to grind them in order to release the nutrients.

Simply superb sesame seeds
“Sesame seeds help to protect the body from free radicals,” says Del Fabbro. “Sesame seeds are also a source of phytic acid, which may inhibit colon cancer, and also contains magnesium and calcium.” Eating sesame seeds in moderation could also provide relief from arthritis and help to improve vascular and respiratory health. 
These seeds should be ground down before they are eaten in order to obtain their nutritional value.

Pretty powerful pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds, best eaten fresh, are very good for men’s prostate health. They also support the immune system, lower cholesterol levels and assist people suffering from arthritis, as they have an anti-inflammatory effect. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc for improved metabolism and digestion.

Don’t go completely nuts! Exercise moderation…
In 2003, the FDA approved the following health claim for a variety of nuts; “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating about 44g per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” 

Pick n Pay dietitian, Teresa Del Fabbro agrees; “Even though the types of fatty acids found in nuts are healthy, fat is still kilojoule-dense and therefore portion sizes must be controlled. Using nuts and seeds as a topping, rather than a snack, can help to incorporate them in the right quantities,” she says. 

The lowdown on nuts and seeds

  • Nuts and seeds can certainly add important nutrients, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre to the diet. They also add flavour, texture and interest to dishes.
  • All nuts and seeds are cholesterol-free as they are plant foods. Plain versions are usually the healthiest option (e.g. plain cashews versus salted and roasted cashews).

Author: Charlene Yared-West, Fresh Living Magazine, April 2010, p52. 

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