Have you ever looked at a walnut encased in its shell and
marveled at the fact that if it were planted, it could sprout into a tree that
would live for more than a hundred years and produce tens of thousands of nuts,
each of which could, in turn, reproduce into a new tree?
In 2016, an archeological dig in Israel found evidence that nuts formed a major part
of human diets 780,000 years ago. Archaeologists discovered seven
varieties, along with stone tools to crack them open. These stone tools, called
“nutting stones,” are similar to those found in North America and Europe, which
archeologists date back 4,000 to 8,000 years.
Many of us munch on walnuts, almonds, pecans, Brazil
nuts, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts — plus an
honorary nut we call peanuts (even though peanuts are technically legumes).
Sometimes we enjoy them with a sprinkling of salt; in a
trail mix, nut loaf, or casserole; blended into nut milk; added to smoothies;
prepared into nut “cheeses”; or even ground and made into pie crusts.
You can make your own nut butter in a blender or food
processor and get creative with complementary accents. Homemade peanut butter
is delicious, but add a dash of cinnamon for a new spin on an old favorite. Or
fold cacao powder into your next batch of homemade almond butter.
We’re only beginning to appreciate the benefits that nuts
offer. They’re rich in high-quality protein, fiber,
minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folate, and
Epidemiologic studies have linked nut
consumption with reduced rates of heart disease, gallstones, and obesity,
as well as beneficial effects on hypertension and inflammation.
Recent studies also indicate that nut consumption can help to
prevent type 2 diabetes.
One study involving more than 9,000 North Americans found that those who ate nuts at least five
times per week gained, on average, an extra two years of life expectancy.
The nut eaters also experienced a 50% reduction in rates of heart
That’s not all. A clinical study published in
the International Journal of Impotence Research looked at what
happened to men with erectile dysfunction who ate three to four handfuls of
pistachios a day for three weeks.
These men experienced a significant improvement in blood
flow through the genital area and significantly firmer erections. The researchers
concluded that three weeks of pistachios “resulted in a significant
improvement in erectile
function…without any side effects.”
Each year, Pfizer makes more than $1.5 billion selling Viagra. The
company fears competition from rival drugs like Cialis and Levitra. Perhaps it
should also be a bit worried about competition from pistachio farmers!
Any Downsides to Eating Nuts?
Surprisingly enough, considering how dense they are in
calories, studies find a correlation between eating more nuts and
weight loss. At least to a point.
But keep in mind that an ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts),
for instance, has 163 calories. If weight loss is a goal of yours, you
might want to limit your nut consumption to no more than one serving (around ¼
cup) per day.
Nuts also have phytates and tannins that can cause gas or
bloating for some people. If you find that happening, scale back to a
serving size that works for you. Or try soaking or sprouting nuts for a couple
of days and storing them in the fridge, which will generally make them easier
Nut Sprouting and Soaking Guide
- Almonds: Soak for 8–12 hours. Sprout by leaving in a
jar and rinsing every morning and evening for 2 or 3 days.
- Brazil nuts: Soak for 3 hours. Do not sprout.
- Cashews: Soak for 2–3 hours. Do not sprout.
- Hazelnuts: Soak for 8 hours. Do not sprout.
- Macadamias: Soak for 2 hours. Do not sprout.
- Pecans: Soak for 6 hours. Do not sprout.
- Pistachios: Soak for 8 hours. Do not sprout.
- Walnuts: Soak for 4 hours. Do not sprout.
Roasted, chopped, and ground nuts go rancid more quickly
than whole and raw ones. Rancid oils are pro-inflammatory and can even be
carcinogenic, so it’s best to eat nuts fairly quickly or to store them
in the refrigerator.
If nuts have been flavored, check the list of ingredients to
see how much oil, salt, spices, sugar, or whatever else was added. And if
you’re allergic to nuts, as about one in every 200 people is, then of course:
Don’t eat them.
What About Seeds?
From sesame to sunflower to pumpkin, seeds are
delicious and offer many of the same health benefits as nuts.
And some seeds, especially chia and flax seeds,
offer an abundance of a bonus nutrient — alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the
Omega-3 fatty acids critical to your brain and cardiovascular health.
5 Recipes for Healthy Snacks
Simply grabbing some fruit or some nuts (or seeds) are all
fabulous — and super easy and portable — healthy snacks. And if you want to get
a bit more creative, you have a lot of other healthy options, too!
One of my favorite healthy snacks is trail mix.
You can purchase pre-made mixes, but making your own is pretty simple. And when
you make it yourself, you can use whatever ingredients you want (and leave out
the ones you don’t).
If you want ideas, here are some tasty and nutritious
trail mix recipes:
Pistachio Trail Mix from Eating Bird Food
Crunchy and vibrant, this mix is low in sugars and only
takes five minutes to create. If you don’t have goji berries, you could use
other dried berries instead.
Trail Mix from The Harvest Kitchen
This blend combines nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for a
terrific, nutrient-boosting snack.
Trail Mix Bites from Happy Hearted Kitchen
If you’re looking for healthy snacks that are easy to grab
and don’t require baking, you’ll love these energy balls. They combine nuts,
seeds, and dried fruit. You could even use your own homemade nut butter to make
them, which brings me to…
How to make your own nut butter:
Homemade Raw Almond Butter from Eating Vibrantly
Creating your own nut butter is wonderfully simple — all you
need are raw nuts and a food processor or Vitamix (and maybe a little salt if
you want). The technique in this recipe can be used to make nut butter out of
almost any kind of nut or seed.
Super Seed Nut Butter from Bakerita
A variety of nuts and seeds combine together for a smooth
and creamy creation packed with nutrient goodness.
Nut butter is delicious when paired with fruit, such as on
apple slices. And it can also be delicious on celery sticks.
A note on dried fruit: Dried fruits do
have health benefits. But it’s best to find unsweetened,
unsulphured, dried fruit. And remember that dried fruit does have concentrated
sugars, and it can be easy to overeat it. So if overeating or balancing your
blood sugar levels are challenges you face, you may want to avoid dried fruit
or to eat it only in small amounts.
And here’s another fun idea: You can add fresh
berries, like blueberries and raspberries, to trail mixes. Just remember to eat
the mix very soon because fresh berries don’t keep for very long.
A Final Word on Snacks
Snacking can be fun — not to mention tasty.
And considering that the average American now gets nearly 600 calories from snacks each
day (the equivalent of a fourth meal), what you choose to snack on is kind of
For many people, snacks are the least healthy (and least
consciously chosen) foods they eat. But when you surround yourself with healthy
snacks, you help make excellent food choices and thriving health your path of