In again… out again… in yet again! How many foods have you seen ‘trashed’ by the ‘experts’, only to come back as the hot new favourite? Nuts are a wonderful example. They have ALWAYS formed a part of the human diet, yet not so many years ago we were being told they should be avoided at all costs due to their high fat content. Well, they’re back in favour and they’re still full of flavour!

Nuts are a highly nutritious seed that should have a place in every diet!
Nuts are a highly nutritious seed that should have a place in every diet!

I’m glad I ignored the ‘expert advice’. I’m a big nut eater and always have been. In fact, I doubt there has been a day in the last 50 years that I haven’t eaten at least one variety of nut. Most days I’ll eat some walnuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts, typically unsalted and raw. I’ve never had a weight problem and my cholesterol levels are, if anything, on the low side. In fact, I’ve always credited my nut intake as one of the major contributors to my excellent health.

Well now researchers are confirming what humankind has always known… that nuts are a great source of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats.

And the many studies done on nut intake versus weight gain have shown no measurable increase in weight where people have been given 30 to 50 grams of nuts a day. Just 30g to 50g may not sound a lot, but because nuts are very high in fibre, they are also very ‘filling’. Did I mention they’re also very low GI?

There’s even some evidence suggesting that eating them may help you live longer. US researchers found people who ate nuts seven or more times a week were less likely to die of cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, when compared with those who didn’t eat them at all.

That’s odd – there seems to be an echo here because isn’t that what I just said?

Anyway, being serious, there are heaps of great reasons to enjoy nuts every day. But think about how active you are before lashing out because they are, after all, high in kilojoules! You might also want to read the label if you’re buying pre-roasted nuts as they may contain transfats and other nasties. (Nuts are so easy to roast anyway – just spread them on a sheet of baking paper on a tray in your oven with no added oils or, even easier, just pop them into your microwave!)

Of course, the nutritional value of nuts varies greatly between varieties. Here’s the low-down on the most common varieties…

Almonds

Almond trees in flower
Almond trees in flower

Almonds are a close relative of peaches and apricots. They’re very high in calcium which is essential for strong bones and good teeth. They’re also a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E and there is good evidence they help reduce blood pressure (another thing I have never shown the slightest symptom of developing). Almonds are readily available whole, flaked, slivered and as flour and are great in both sweet and savoury dishes. A handful makes for a tasty snack any time of day. Don’t forget to pack some in with the school lunches! .

Cashews

Surprise... I'm a cashew!
Surprise… I’m a cashew!

Many would consider the cashew nut as a byproduct of the liquor industry. The ‘apple’ above the nut is used to brew a potent beverage known as feni in Goa, the home of the cashew tree. Luckily for the world’s nut lovers, the seed is not needed for the fermentation process! Cashews nuts – as opposed to the fruit, are delicious raw or lightly roasted. They are also a wonderful addition to any spicy dish. They are a rich source of copper, which is important for healthy blood, nerves, bones and for your immune system.

Walnuts

Walnut fruit containing the nut
Walnut fruit containing the nut

Walnuts have a slightly bitter flavour, which I personally find more pronounced in the Chinese varieties. The Australian and American walnuts are my favourites. As always, fresh is best! Walnuts are good eaten raw or cooked. I especially like them in hotcakes and in muesli as they add both texture and flavour. Walnuts are sometimes described as the king of nuts because they are exceptionally high in essential antioxidants. They’re also a great plant source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Pecans

The makings of a pecan pie!
The makings of a pecan pie!

Often mistaken as a relative of the walnut, pecans are actually the seed of a hickory. They pack a wallop in thiamin, magnesium, phosporus, potassium, zinc, copper and especially, manganese. They are a fabulous addition to a tossed salad. OK… I give up – yes, a pecan pie would not be much without the pecans!

Brazil nuts

A Brazil nut pod can contain a dozen or more nuts
A Brazil nut pod can contain a dozen or more nuts

Brazil nut trees are mega!  Massive, towering, rainforest specimens. Each tree can produce many thousands of nuts annually. Brazil nuts have a lovely subtle flavour. As kids we used to call them gravel nuts because they were so hard to crack open and if you missed a bit of shell, it was like chewing on gravel! Today, you can get them shelled at your local supermarket. They are wonderful alone, in cereal or mixed into any form of chocolate dessert, including cakes. (Yes, the occassional cake is fine for your health too!) Brazil nuts are the richest known source of selenium, a mineral essential for a healthy liver, thyroid, heart and immune system.

Pine nuts

Traditional spanish marzipan with pine nuts
Traditional spanish marzipan with pine nuts

Pine nuts are literally pine tree seeds, extracted from that ubiquitous Christmas icon, the pine cone! All pines have edible seeds but only about 20 varieties produce seeds large enough to warrant harvesting. Pine nuts are a traditional food in many cultures. You probably know them as the base ingredient in pesto but why not toss some through that salad you’re planning to serve with the pasta? Delicious! They are common in Southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes – both sweet and savoury. Be warned that they are very easy to burn due to their small volume. Wonderful flavour aside, they’re an excellent source of iron and zinc.

Pistachios

Pistachio ready for harvest
Pistachio ready for harvest

The challenge with pistachios is that they tend to come heavily salted, especially the pre-shelled packs. A little salt is OK but the science is never going to change on excessive salt intake! None-the-less, pistachios happen to be very high in potassium, essential, among other things, for healthy brain activity and nerve impulses.

Macadamias

Macadamia integrifolia
Macadamia integrifolia

Last but possibly the best tasting of all! Macadamia nuts are an Australian native. In fact, they are commonly known here as just ‘bush nuts’. Their rich, buttery flavour has seen them spread to many farms and gardens around the world. Macadamias are a great source of vitamin A, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folates as well as containing anti-oxidants in reasonable quanties.

And, of course, all nuts are high in amino acids, the body’s basic building block!

So there you go… stop feeling guilty and get into them. You’d be nuts if you didn’t.

I know I haven’t covered all the favourites. What’s yours?

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