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Nutritious nuts

 

It’s common knowledge that nuts are a powerhouse of nutrients, and many books on diet and nutrition recommend eating nuts as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, instead of less healthy foods like biscuits or muffins, because they are high in carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals. But nuts are also known to be high in fat, so what are the most nutritious nuts and how do they compare in fat content?

Log onto any nut growers website and they will tell you all the good things about their nuts (highest in this and that, rich in this and that) but it’s difficult to find anywhere that tells you which are the ‘best’ nuts. So I did some research of my own, and here are the results:

The nuts with the lowest saturated fat content (4%) are almonds and hazelnuts. These are therefore the ‘stars’ of the nut family if you want to minimise your saturated fat intake. Total fat content for both nuts is over 50%, but most of it is monounsaturated fat – the type of fat that your body needs to protect levels of HDL – the ‘good’ cholesterol.

Almonds and hazelnuts are also ‘stars’ because they have the highest fibre content, and almonds have the highest content of Vitamin E (all of the tocopherols), calcium and riboflavin, and are also quite high in iron and beta-sitosterol (which helps to lower cholesterol). Hazelnuts have the highest content of Vitamin C and are also quite high in iron, thiamin and folate.

Third place getter as far as low saturated fat content is concerned are pine nuts (5%), and they are a very good source of Vitamin K, niacin and zinc, but as I usually add pine nuts to my muesli mix (and also because they need to be refrigerated after opening - they can go rancid quite quickly), I looked to the fourth place getter for another nut to add to my snack mix.

The nuts with the next lowest saturated fat content (6%) are pecans, pistachios and walnuts, but the one that stands out as far as nutritional benefits are concentrated are pistachios.

Pistachios are the only nut with any significant amount of lutein and zeaxanthin (compounds needed for good eye health) and has the highest content of beta-carotene, beta-sitosterol and thiamin.

The only nutrient that a mix of almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios does not provide in any significant quantity is selenium, but that can be provided by adding just one brazil nut to the mix, because brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, and a single brazil nut will provide the required daily allowance of selenium. Brazil nuts have the highest saturated fat content of any nuts (15%) but one nut contains less than half a gram of saturated fat.

The recommended daily serving size of nuts is about 30-40 grams. One teacup holds about 100 grams of nuts, so 30-40 grams is about a third of a teacupful.

So that gave me my ‘recipe’ for my afternoon snack mix which provides lots and lots of valuable nutrients, but keeps the saturated fat as low as possible:

  • 10 grams of almonds
  • 10 grams of hazelnuts
  • 10 grams of pistachios
  • and a single brazil nut

Use certified organically grown nuts wherever possible – they usually cost a little more, but at least you know they haven’t been sprayed with lots of chemicals.

Unfortunately my favourite nuts – macadamias and cashews – have the highest saturated fat content after brazil nuts, so I avoid those these days. That’s not a problem because there’s nothing in macadamias and cashews that my nut mix can’t provide. Cashews are often touted as a good source of iron, but almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios all have more than two-thirds the iron content of cashews.

So now I make up a nut mix using 100 grams of each of the above nuts, plus 10 brazil nuts, divide them into 10 small bags, and that gives me a 10-day supply of a nutritious afternoon snack.