Going NUTural

When I was a child there were several certainties about Christmas that remained unchanged. The one which stands out most in my mind is that somewhere in the heel or toe of my stocking I would always reach in to discover a tangerine and a clutch of almonds and walnuts.My mother reminded me of the nutritional benefits of nuts in general and today, although this tradition appears to have dwindled somewhat, it is a memory that has remained with me so I decided to do a little research into the health benefits derived from nuts.

As a nation, we are always searching for foods that are healthy as well as satisfying and although we are advised by most nutritionists against snacking, there are very few products better for you if you must eat between meals.

Nuts are unique for their super-healthy qualities and with such a diverse range, offer distinct tastes, flavours, textures and aromas, which many of us may still be quite ignorant of.

I can honestly say the only bag of nuts I have in my cupboard is well and truly out of date and has probably been there since last Christmas. I have good intentions when shopping; purchasing nuts, along with the prunes and dried apricots is always a good idea at the time  but aside from the obligatory bowl of KP’s on the coffee table before dinner, I never consume what I purchase!

Nuts are also one of the best plant sources of protein, essential for body growth and rebuilding cells. They are rich in fibre (roughage) Vitamin E and selenium – which are great antioxidants and high in plant sterols and good fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega 3) which have all been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Another key advantage is that they have a low- GI (glycaemic index) ranking, meaning they slow carbohydrate digestion and prevent blood sugar highs and lows, leaving you feeling energised for longer.

The down side of nuts (and unfortunately there has to be one) is that they are high in calories and fat, however if you can restrain yourself from overeating them, nuts can be part of a healthy diet.

The Nut Family

Almonds– are the most nutrient dense of all tree nuts. They contain more fibre, and vitamin E than any other nut. Around 20 almonds contain as much fibre as an apple or orange, so are great for digestion and healthy bowels. They are also rich in calcium, with one ounce providing more calcium than a small pot of cottage cheese.

Walnuts – have a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids one being alpha-linolenic acid which has the ability to thin the blood, helping prevent clots and heart attacks. They also have one of the highest ratios of polyunsaturated (good) to saturated (bad) fats of any natural food.

Cashews – are loaded with mono-unsaturated fats for a healthy heart, iron for the prevention of anaemia and also improving immunity and energy production. Cashews also contain vitamin K, which will help to clot blood.

Pistachios – these babies are high in potassium which is good for blood pressure, Calcium for healthy teeth and bones and vitamin E for good skin. They also contain more natural plant sterols which help protect your heart than any other nut.

Brazil Nuts – these contain an antioxidant called selenium this is a mineral that is thought to protect against cancer by preventing damage to cells from harmful free radicals and by stimulating the immune system. If that is not enough Brazils are also the richest nuts in phytoestrogens, which can help protect against osteoporosis and improve menopause symptoms.

Pecan – these contain important minerals; potassium to regulate blood pressure and magnesium which works with calcium to make bones stronger. Pecans are also a good source of vitamin E for that beautiful completion.

Macadamia – are a highly nutritious nut containing 9% protein, 9% carbohydrates and 2% fibre. They have the highest amount of beneficial mono-saturated fats of any nut.

So what are we waiting for, fill your shopping baskets up with goodness and encourage the kids and the whole family to join you for a healthy treat that should grace every month and not just December.

Poppy Watt