Focus Foods: Nuts and Seeds

It’s hard to beat the convenience, satisfaction and health benefits of nuts and seeds.

Let’s take a look at what studies have shown and the motivation behind getting some into your diet.

  • Cholesterol lowering: One of the ways nuts and seeds lower cholesterol is with compounds called phytosterols. These have a similar molecular structure to well-known cholesterol, allowing them to compete with cholesterol for absorption into our body. This ultimately has a cholesterol-lowering effect on LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

  • Fat burning boost:  Though more research is needed to confirm the way it works, scientists believe that nuts help burn body fat due to either their high arginine content or flavonoid and phytonutrient content. Arginine may help our cells make more mitochondria (like cellular engines) and help convert our fat stores into heat.

  • Heart health: Lowering cholesterol and losing weight are great for your heart but they aren’t the only ways nuts and seeds help protect your ticker. Several nuts and seeds provide magnesium which is an important mineral for both overall and heart health. Higher intake of magnesium has been associated with lower risk for sudden cardiac death.

Won’t calorie-dense nuts make you gain weight?

All short-term and long-term studies have shown that adding a few handfuls of nuts daily either didn’t affect weight, led to lower weight gain than control groups, or helped participants lose weight!

The theory on these results is that about 70% of the calories disappear through “dietary compensation” such as appetite suppression, 10% are lost in faeces, and the last 20% through boosted metabolism and fat burn. That’s putting nuts to good use!

Are phytates a concern? Some say soaking, sprouting or dehydrating nuts and seeds helps to ease digestion by removing part of the phytic acid they contain. Though this may help with digestion for some, it’s important to note that recent research has found that phytic acid is likely not the anti-nutrient menace it is made out to be.

Rather, it could easily be a part of a healthy diet. Additional research even shows anti-cancer effects of phytic acid and a link to a decrease of osteoporosis in women.

Tip: Nuts also make great vehicles for sugar, salt and added fat (oils). Candied, oiled and salted nuts may be yummy treats, but be wary of the added unhealthy calories. Opt for raw or plain dry roasted nuts and seeds for healthful dietary additions.

Want a sweet nutty treat on the go? Try this snack to keep you going through the day:

Pistachio and Cranberry Energy Balls (makes 15 balls, from Pick Up Limes)

You can substitute both the type of nuts and dried fruit to your liking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup pistachio kernels
  • ½ cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
  • 1 cup soft pitted dates
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries, unsweetened if possible
  • ¼ cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Method:

  1. Roast the oats and nuts in the oven at 180C for 8-10 minutes until golden. Or leave raw for more mild flavour.

  2. In a large bowl, mix the flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit.

  3. Process the dates in a food processor. Soak them beforehand if they are too hard.

  4. Add the dates, maple syrup and vanilla extract to the flaxseed. Mix well with a fork.

  5. Then add the remaining ingredients. Evenly mix and coat everything.

  6. Roll into bite-sized balls and refrigerate for 30 minutes or freeze to keep longer.