Ok, so I love nuts. Who doesn’t…? I guess maybe those with a life-threatening allergy… If that’s you, not to worry. Although this time I’m discussing nuts, seeds have a very similar nutritional make up.
Nuts are close to the perfect food. They are tasty, good for you, require no preparation, and can be used in almost any dish, sweet or savoury. My family and I eat nuts everyday. Nuts are a very important part of a healthy diet and, unless you have an allergy, should be consumed often. I find most people do not eat enough nuts if they are even eating them at all.
Nuts are particularly important for kids. They need foods high in healthy fats to keep them going and to help with brain development, and nuts are a great source of healthy fats. They also contain protein, fibre, and vitamins and minerals. Although the exact nutritional profile differs between varieties, nuts are generally about 10-20% protein and 50-75% fats (mainly mono and polyunsaturated). They contain differing types and amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients so it’s best to rotate your nuts to ensure you are getting all they have to offer.
Unfortunately, nuts have gotten a bit of a bad wrap over the last few decades due to rising numbers of allergies. For awhile, it was even recommended that you delay introducing nuts to infants to help prevent food allergies. This advice has since been found to be false and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends not waiting to introduce nuts even if there is an increased risk of allergy. For more information on this, visit: http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/feeding_your_baby_in_the_first_year
We are also emerging from a huge ‘fat scare’ where everyone seemed to be avoiding fats like the plague. Thankfully, we seem to be getting over that as we are realizing that low fat diets actually make things worse. Fats are necessary for health and normal functioning. We need fats; the right kind of fats. Even if you are trying to lose weight and cut calories, you should not be avoiding healthy fats.
Now, I’m not saying that you should go forth and consume an entire bowl full of nuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday. I just want to get the point across that you don’t need to be afraid of nuts and, in fact, should give them a welcomed and important position in your diet amongst all the other healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables. Better yet, use them to bump out some unhealthy foods. Because nuts are high in fats and proteins, they give you more energy and keep you feeling satisfied longer as compared to a sugary snack.
Here are things to keep in mind when purchasing and storing nuts:
- Buy your nuts raw, and not roasted. Exposing nuts to high heat strips them of some of their health benefits. The unsaturated fats become rancid and some of the vitamins and minerals can be depleted. Buying shelled nuts is even better, but not as convenient.
- Store your nuts in the fridge. Unsaturated fats are sensitive to heat and light. Keeping them in a cool, dark place keeps them fresh for longer.
- When buying nut butters, be sure to check the ingredients. Typical store bought nut butters are loaded with sugars and trans fats. Check the label to make sure the only ingredient is nuts.
- Nuts can sometimes be a bit hard to digest. Try soaking them for 4-6 hours or overnight. They become softer and, some think, easier to digest.
Easy ways to include nuts in your diet:
- Plain straight up nuts. Not tempting enough? Try adding some dried fruit (… and perhaps a few dark chocolate or unsweetened carob chips) to make a trail mix.
- Nut butters (natural nut butters with no added ingredients) spread on crackers, bread, celery (ants on a log anyone?), apples, etc.
- Sprinkle nuts on a salad.
- Try a nut inspired recipe like this Asian Cashew Quinoa Salad.
- Add ground or whole nuts to your oatmeal or hot cereal. Chia and hemp seeds are great for this too.
- Add nuts or nut butters to a smoothie.
- Use different kinds of nuts to make pestos to use on pasta, meat, or as a spread or dip.
- Grind nuts and use the powder to coat slippery fruits like banana and melon. On top of adding a nutritional punch it also makes them easier for little ones to pick up. Just pop nuts in a food processor, magic bullet, blender, or coffee grinder and pulse until nuts are ground into a powder.
- Mix ground nuts in baby food purees or cereals.
- Add ground or whole nuts to yogurt.
Whole nuts and large dollops of nut butters can be choking hazards for children. Grinding nuts and sprinkling them on cereals, fruits, or adding them to smoothies is your best bet to avoid this risk. When using nut butters, spread thinly and avoid globs. When children are old enough to begin eating whole nuts, try soaking them to soften them up and ensure the pieces are not big enough to block an airway. Here is some additional information on choking hazards: http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/preventing-choking-suffocation-children