Nuts are one of the most amazing foods on the planet. They are loaded with fiber, nutrients and heart healthy fats. They're void of sugar and contain minimal carbohydrates, and best of all, they taste heavenly. Despite these fun facts, I've run into many patients in my practice that avoid them like the plague due to their high fat and high calorie content. Fear not! Nuts can and should be a part of your diet for a variety of health and culinary reasons.
The most important reasons come from two huge studies published in the past two years. They showed that nut eaters live longer than non-nut eaters and have a lower incidence of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease. Here are seven nuts, seven facts and seven uses that will make you go nuts for what I call the other white meat!
1. Cashews are not the enemy -- but their shells are!
Wondering why you can't find a cashew sleeping inside its shell like you can other nuts? It's because that shell can actually hurt you. Cashews are in the same plant family as poison ivy and poison sumac and their itchy oil is contained almost entirely in the shell of the nut. That's why you find cashews sold out of the shell. Once you get past the shell, go nuts! Eating cashews may help you ward off, or manage diabetes by helping to stimulate blood sugar absorption by muscle cells, according to the authors of a 2010 study.
Cashews are commonly used in Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisines as a garnish or added into curry sauce. They can also be made into a cashew cream as a dairy-free vegan substitute. Check out this delicious recipe by Tal Ronnen!
2. The pistachio fruit (yes, it's actually a fruit) and the vegetable kale have a lot in common.
Why? Because they're both green! Pistachios get their green color from the same pigment (chlorophyll) that lights up your spinach, kale and other fabulous plant based foods. Pistachio consumption has been linked to increased antioxidants in the blood, improved heart health and may even decrease your risk for lung cancer. Pistachios can be eaten whole as a snack, used as a butter or paste to flavor foods, or crumbled as a topping on a salad.
3. Of all the nuts out there, walnuts are the only nut that has this!
Walnuts enjoy a distinction like no other -- they are the only nut that has omega-3 fatty acids! The research on walnuts reads like the Sunday edition of the New York Times -- it's extensive and informative! In addition to the heart healthy benefits (including improvements in endothelial function) you'll get from walnuts, you'll also get a reduced risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and improved motor skills in older individuals. Use walnuts as a gluten-free base for anything that needs a crust (think healthy pies and tarts).
4. Peanuts aren't nuts at all.
That's right! They're legumes. And guess what else -- in addition to your prenatal pill you should be including them in your pregnancy diet. A 2013 study in the Journal Pediatrics found that moms who ate peanuts and other tree nuts during their pregnancy had children born with a significantly lower incidence of nut allergies. Although nut allergies amongst children have tripled in the last 15 years, and previous data showed a connection between pregnancy nut consumption and increased risk of allergies, the overall evidence has been lacking.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinded its statement about avoidance of tree nuts in pregnant women in 2008. The most widely used way to use peanuts -- you guessed it! Peanut butter! So don't have Arachibutyrophobia, enjoy some peanut butter today (or in the month of November which is National Peanut Butter month). Just make sure the Just make sure the only ingredient in your peanut butter is peanuts (not sugar and partially hydrogenated oils).
5. Your gut loves almonds more than any other nut
A 2008 study found that almonds (and specifically the fat in almonds) may play a role in increasing healthy bacteria in the gut. Though the study is older and was funded by the Almond Board, the results were nonetheless intriguing to see an association between nut consumption and improved gut flora.
Further, a 2013 study found that consumption of almonds helped increase feelings of fullness without the risk for weight gain. Therefore, almonds may be a great option for both your gut (intestines) and your gut (excess weight). Go real raw by making your own almond milk. You'll find several ways to make it with a quick search on the internet.
6. Macadamia nuts tell us when they're ready for consumption!
Most macadamia farmers harvest the nuts after they have fallen from the tree to the ground. It's that time when the nut is the most ripe so in a sense, the nut determines when it's ready for eating! Although macadamia nuts get a bad rap for their high calorie content, they also happen to have wonderful benefits when it comes to overall heart health.
Just watch the portion control. Along with pecans, macadamias boast the highest calorie count in the nut world. Use macadamia oil for a different, yet delicious flavor in your next stir-fry creation!
7. Brazil nuts favor men.
Guys, stop throwing the big Brazil nuts out of the nut mix you're buying! Brazil nuts are high in selenium, a mineral that has been found to be effective in the fight against prostate cancer. A key point in the selenium cancer connection lies in the source. A 2014 study found that men who chose to get their selenium from supplements (instead of real food like Brazil nuts) had an increased incidence of prostate cancer. Enjoy a few every day as a mid-morning snack to get all the selenium you need without going overboard.
Finally, to get the most out of your nutty diet, enjoy nuts in moderation. They are still loaded with fat (even though most of that is healthy fat) and calories. That means that having a snack of nuts every day is great for controlling your weight, optimizing your health and increasing your feelings of satisfaction but snacking on nuts all day... not so much. Also avoid nuts that have been "dressed up" such as beer nuts, honey glazed and candied varieties.
Alex Greenhoe contributed to this article.