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Crack open some secrets about nuts
Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, with just a handful (30g, about 20 nuts) providing 85% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant. So it’s important to include in the diet foods rich in healthy fats such as nuts to maintain heart health[i]. Bitter almonds contain prussic acid (also known as hydrogen cyanide). Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally, but even in small doses effects are severe and in larger doses can be deadly. Fortunately the almonds we eat are considered “sweet” almonds[ii].
Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium, a vital mineral and antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease[iii]. Just two Brazil nuts can provide your entire daily intake of selenium[iv]. They’re called Brazil nuts because they’re the seeds of a very large tree from the Amazon rainforest. Brazil nuts for international trade come entirely from wild collection rather than from cultivated nut farms[v].
You will never see cashews sold in the shell. The nut is surrounded by a double shell that contains a caustic phenolic resin, urushiol, a potent skin irritant and toxin also found in poison ivy[vi]. Cashew nuts however are a firm favourite and with good reason – cashews are a source of magnesium, needed for strong bones. Count 15 cashews in a handful.
Hazelnuts are referred to in a manuscript found in dating from 2838 BC. At that time, the hazelnut took its place among the five sacred nourishments God bestowed on humans[vii]. Maybe no longer sacred, but certainly very worthy. Hazelnuts contain significant amounts of B group vitamins including folate and Vitamin B6. Plus, they are the highest in fibre of all the nuts. An average handful contains 20 hazelnuts.
Macadamias – the Australian nut – are brimming with healthy monounsaturated fats and have been found to lower blood cholesterol[viii]. Fifteen macadamias make one handful, and be careful to keep dogs at a safe distance – macadamias may cause muscle weakness[ix].
With a number of essential nutrients pecans are a great all round snack for the health conscious. They have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol[x]. Feast on a handful or 15 pecans. “Pecan” is apparently from the native North American Algonquin word meaning “a tough nut to crack”[xi]. Indeed they are, so best to use a nut cracker.
Pine-nuts, for Ancient Greeks and Romans, were believed to be an aphrodisiac. Whether for that reason or not, the pine-nut continues as a standard ingredient in today’s Italian cuisine. Pine-nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees, removed from pine cones. They contain nutrients including useful amounts of zinc, niacin, manganese and the amino acid or protein arginine. An average serve is two tablespoons of pine nuts.
With that recognisable green colour pistachios are the only edible nuts that don’t need to be shelled before roasting. Related to the almond, peach and nectarine family – or drupes – pistachios are split down the middle[xii]. They’re rich in protein for active bodies and contain the antioxidant Vitamin E. Split 60 pistachios for an average serve of 30g.
Walnuts are understood to have first been cultivated more than 4000 years ago, however fossilised shells have been found in South West France dating back 8000 years. The modern name walnut comes from the German ‘wallnuss’, meaning foreign nut. While ancient in name, walnuts are essential for health. They contain the highest source of natural plant omega 3s called alphalinoleic acid – ALA . Eating walnuts is like wearing a seat belt for your heart. Enjoy 10 whole walnuts in an average serve.
[i] Strahan TM. Nuts for cardiovascular protection. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(Suppl):S33
[iii] Gemma Flores-Mateo et al. Selenium and coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;84(4):762-773
[iv] Nuts for Life Ready Recknoner – In a Nutshell, 2005
[viii] Hiraoka-Yamamoto J, et al. Serum lipid effects of a monounsaturated (palmitoleic) Fatty Acid-rich diet based on macadamia nuts in healthy, young Japanese women. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2004 Dec;31 Suppl 2:S37-8.
[ix] Hansen SR et al. Weakness, tremors and depression associated with macadamia nuts in dogs. Vet Hum Toxicol. 2000;42(1):18-21.
[x] Rajaram S et al A monounsaturated fatty acid-rich pecan-enriched diet favorably alters the serum lipid profile of healthy men and women. J Nutr. 2001 Sep;131(9):2275-9.