Nuts about nuts
February 24, 2014
Editor's note: This is part one in a series on nuts. Check back tomorrow for a look at creative ways to cook with nuts and nut oils.
When I was a kid, my father loved to snack on nuts. Driving with him in the car I still remember the peanut shells he tossed on the floor as he sang along to the radio and greased up the steering wheel with his salty hands. Because of this early association, I thought nuts were an unhealthy snack and not something you should think about adding to your diet if you want to eat well.
Getting our omega-3s with ease
It turns out I was wrong about nuts. Depending on the type, studies have shown that nuts can prevent disease, help people lose weight and even live longer. Nuts are an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us are deficient in, said Dr. Deborah Wiancek, naturopathic physician and owner of the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic and Pharmacy in Edwards.
"Our diets have changed over the years," Wiancek said. "We get omega-3s from fish, (but) people are not eating as much fish as they did years ago. … A lot of the fish we eat is processed or farm raised, so they don't have all the omega-3s in there."
Wiancek said omega-3s are crucial in protecting our hearts, as those who are lacking in them have a greater risk for heart disease. Omega-3s also help fight inflammation, could lower cholesterol and decreases our risk for stroke and diabetes.
A downside to nuts is that they are high in calories. While the fat found in nuts is considered good for us, munching on macadamia nuts all day could easily cause weight gain if you're not careful. Wiancek said 18 raw nuts per serving is ideal.
"Raw is the best way to go," Wiancek said. "Once they're roasted, the heating process of the nuts reduces their nutrient content."
If you can't take the taste of raw nuts, Wiancek said with roasted nuts you're still getting some of the health benefits but not all. Salting nuts also decreases their nutrient content, but they are okay to eat if you don't have any health issues with sodium in your diet. Wiancek suggested rather than buying roasted or salted nuts at the grocery store, you can roast them yourself at home in the oven at 400 degrees fahrenheit and flavor them with sea salt, curry or turmeric powder, which can also reduce inflammation.
A new way to saute
Another way to add nuts to your diet is to use nut-based oils. Macadamia nut oil is high in omega-3s and at 413 degrees Fahrenheit, it has a much higher smoking point than other cold-pressed nut oils. Recently there's been a trend towards ditching olive oil and using macadamia nut oil instead. Wiancek said olive oil is high in omega-9 fatty acids, which our body also needs. The issue with olive oil is it's now being cut with other oils and yet still marketed as such.
"What's happening with olive oil today is we don't know if it's pure," Wiancek said. "It's getting mixed with other oils, even those that say 'pure' on the bottle."
In addition to watching what's on the label, olive oil has a low smoking point and should only be used for sauteing or cooking on low heat. Cooking olive oil too high can cause it to become rancid. In order to get all your omegas, it's best to use a mix of oils but avoid corn or vegetable oil, which contain trans fatty acids.
Wiancek doesn't necessarily think nut oils are better than eating raw nuts, or vice versa, but did point out that nut oils contain a higher concentration or nuts, as it takes 1/4 cup of nuts to make one tablespoon of nut oil. She said it's best to get a variety of nuts in your diet because if you eat too much of one kind, then you could develop an allergy to it. Wiancek has seen an increase in almond allergies over the years because it's all people eat, not just as a snack but by using almond butter and almond milk.
Trends on the horizon
There always seems to be a new nut craze, with everyone raving about macadamia nuts one year to expounding on the benefits of walnuts the next. Delling Zing, owner of Freshies Organic Market in Edwards, said macadamia nut oil was very popular a few years ago, but now people are excited about coconut oil, avocado oil and hemp seed oil, which aren't nuts but have similar health benefits.
"Yesterday I sold three bottles of hemp seed oil," Zing said. "I don't think I've sold three bottles in the last ten years total."
Most of the hemp products sold in the U.S. come from Canada, but Zing said once people start growing hemp in Colorado due to Amendment 64 (which legalized Industrial Hemp production at the state but not federal level), hemp seeds will become a big industry.
Zing expects avocado oil to become more common because it has a creamy, velvety texture perfect for soups and salads. It also has a smoke point on par with extra virgin olive oil. Zing said coconut oil is still king when it comes to alternative oils partially due to it's high smoke point. Coconut oil is not a good source for omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, but it does contain electrolytes and can help build muscle mass.
Using an oil that isn't nut-based might be good for someone who has allergies, but nuts are still a great way to add protein, and there's a lot of nutrients packed into just a handful of nuts. Eating more nuts won't dramatically change your health, but it's a simple addition to your diet that can go a long way.
"Generally people who eat nuts tend to be thinner and healthier than people who don't," Wiancek said. "Studies across the board say that."