By- Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
Nuts and seeds make up an important part of a healthy diet. Both types of food help you reach your recommended intake of protein each day, as well as count toward your daily fat allowance. Seeds and nuts benefit your health because they offer key essential nutrients and play a role in disease prevention by keeping you healthy as you age. (1)
What are Nuts?
The botanical definition of a nut in its simplest form is a seed contained in a hard shell which doesn’t naturally open to release the seed when it matures. Some examples of nuts are almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pistachios. (2)
What are Seeds?
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a seed coat, which has stored food to nourish the embryo as it grows into a plant. This embryo is a fertilized ovule. Some seeds require their outer husks to be removed before eating. Some examples of seeds are sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. (3)
Why nuts and seeds are considered a healthy part of my diet?
Eating plant foods such as nuts and seeds makes your diet more nutritious and may help prevent chronic diseases, especially if you come into contact with pollutants in the environment. Plant foods contain nutritious compounds called phytonutrients.
Nutritionally, nuts and seeds are low in saturated fat, yet high in fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phytonutrients, and poly- and monounsaturated fats. Because they are of plant origin, nuts and seeds do not contain cholesterol. Unless salted, nuts and seeds are naturally low in sodium. (4)
Nutrients in Nuts and Seeds
Overall, nuts have very similar macro-nutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) profiles, but different types of nuts may have slightly different micro-nutrient (vitamin and mineral) content.
- High in monounsaturated fats (most nut types) and polyunsaturated fats (mainly walnuts)
- Low in saturated fats
- Good sources of dietary protein, hence a good alternative to animal proteins. Some nuts are also high in amino acid arginine, which keeps blood vessels healthy
- Free of dietary cholesterol
- High in dietary fibre
- Rich in phytochemicals that act as antioxidants
- Rich in vitamins E, B6, niacin and folate; and they provide minerals such as magnesium, zinc, plant iron, calcium, copper, selenium, phosphorus and potassium.
Like nuts, most seeds are rich in protein, healthy fats, fibre, minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, plant iron and zinc, and contain vitamins B1,B2, B3 and vitamin E. Oily seeds also contain antioxidants that stop the fats from going rancid too quickly.
Due to the unique nutrient profiles of nuts and seeds, they are known to provide several health benefits, including:
- Helping with weight regulation
- Reducing risk for heart disease
- Reducing risk for diabetes.(5)
Ways to Include Nuts and Seeds in Your Diet
- Choose unsalted or lightly salted nuts and seeds to keep salt intake low.
- Enjoy peanut butter or almond butter toast in the morning for breakfast along with fresh fruit.
- Add nuts to stir fry meals or cooked vegetables, like green beans with slivered almonds.
- Sprinkle chopped nuts or seeds into hot or cold cereal in the morning.
- Have a handful of roasted or raw mixed nuts and seeds as a snack instead of chips.
- Try a handful of mixed nuts and seeds and a piece of fruit for a balanced snack.
- Include nuts on a large salad meal at lunch instead of added cheese.
- Add a few spoonfuls of chia seeds and/or ground flaxseeds into baked goods for added fiber.
- “A handful, not a can full.” Never eat nuts and seeds directly out of a jar or can. Take out a handful and put the container back in the cupboard before you start to eat them.
- Roasting nuts gives them more flavor, and is a good way to prepare nuts as a garnish.(6)