In our monthly series called, “Ask a Nutritionist,” we harass McKel Hill of Nutrition Stripped, an internationally-known Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, to answer our health-related queries. As she puts it, “Food should make you feel radiant, sexy and energized as much as it nourishes your cells.” Two avocados for you, McKel. You go, McKel. Up this week: everything you should nut — I mean, know — about nuts and seeds.
Why eat them? Nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fat, antioxidants and protein. When eaten throughout the day they can keep our blood sugar level balanced to avoid afternoon crashes incited by eating too many carbohydrates without a balance of fat or protein. They’ve been shown to lower our risk for heart disease and diabetes and quite frankly, they’re delicious.
What are they, really? Although “nut” is the umbrella term, most of the ones we’re familiar with are actually drupes, seeds or legumes. These species include walnuts (drupe), brazil nuts (seed!), almonds (drupe), cashews (fruit!), hazelnuts (nut), pistachios (fruit), macadamia (fruit) and peanuts (legume). Traditional seeds include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and sesame seeds.
No — but really, what’s so good about them? Each nut and seed is nutritious in its own right: Brazil nuts are selenium (an antioxidant) supermodels — just one kernel retains an entire day’s worth. Sesame seeds accommodate your daily intake of calcium, hemp seeds retain protein and walnuts and chia seeds are the poster children for omega-3 fatty acids (good for depression, embryo development, digestion).
I shy away from recommending peanuts due to their susceptibility to molds and fungus (one in particular to note is aflatoxin, produced by a fungus that can potentially grow on peanuts and is considered a carcinogen by the FDA). Some studies show aflatoxin can cause serious health issues including liver cancer, so if you’re going to eat them, consider roasting them because this lowers the risk of the fungus.
Nut butters vs. whole form: Both are nutritious, but when consuming butters, make sure the only ingredients are the nut and seeds. Often there are hidden hydrogenated oils and sugars in there — you should stay away from those.
How should I eat my nuts? I recommend buying them raw, but if you can’t find them in their natural form, lightly roasted — still unsalted! — is the second best bet.
Where should I store them? Keep them in an airtight glass jar (like a mason jar) in the fridge. This will help their natural oils from oxidizing as quickly.
How many should I eat? Your body already knows the answer to this: you’ve overdone it when you stomach starts to hurt. Eating too many without consuming water make digestion very difficult as they essentially create a paste around your colon. The recommended intake — about a handful (so figure 24 almonds, 17 cashews, 30 pistachios, 16 hazelnuts) — is pretty on point. Though nuts can help with weight management at the recommended intake, they rank high on the calorie count scale and can therefore affect your weight if over-consumed.
How often should I eat them? I recommend one serving per day, and in the span of a week you might want to add variety (i.e. not just consuming all almonds; explore others for taste and for different nutrient compositions!). Eating healthful fats at each meal not only helps our bodies absorb key nutrients, but the fats found in nuts and seeds keep us full longer and balances our blood sugar — a win-win if you’re looking for lasting energy and a clear mind.
Recipe Ideas? But of course! The simplest one includes placing a walnut, almond or brazil nut inside a pitted date for a pop-able snack on the go. Second easiest: A + A = almond butter and an apple for a satisfied sugar craving.
Send us pictures if you make any!