True story: a friend told me that her doctor advised her to eat “seven almonds a day”. Why? No explanation given. I’m not sure what the specific benefit would be, but nothing wrong with eating seven almonds, which is about 1/3 ounce. Seven almonds provides: about 50 calories, 2 grams protein, 1 grams fiber, 2 grams fat and small amounts of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, and vitamin E. Better than eating an Oreo or 10 M&Ms (similar calories).
All this got me thinking about nuts, a category of genetically unrelated plant foods that grow on trees, shrubs, leafy annuals and flowers (if you consider sunflower seeds to be nuts). Despite the very different genetic background, all these nuts have similar nutrient profiles.
- Plant protein
- Healthy fats, including significant monounsaturated fats. Walnuts are notable for omega-3 fats.
- vitamin E
- B vitamins
They’re also notable for what they lack: sodium and sugar. Take advantage of this nutritional benefit by avoiding salted/sweetened nut products.
There are two potential problems with nuts:
- Spoilage. Because nuts are high in polyunsaturated fats, they’re prone to rancidity if the nuts are stored too long, unrefrigerated. I’m talking weeks or months of storage, not for a few hours in your day pack. Solution: keep containers of nuts in the refrigerator.
- Overconsumption: nuts are tasty and dense. They’re especially tasty when coated with salt and/or sweeteners, another reason to avoid those products. You can easily chomp your way through 1 cup or more of nuts (800+ calories, 15 or more grams fat) if you aren’t paying attention, because they’re not filling like fruit or vegetables. Maybe counting out 7 almonds isn’t such a strange idea after all.
Random Nut Facts
- Cashews grow on a tree that is native to northern Brazil. These trees tolerate poor soils and dry climates, making them a good fit for less-than-ideal growing conditions in tropical regions.
- Brazil nut trees only grow in rainforest regions of South America. These trees grow almost exclusively in the wild, as they depend on a specific type of wild bee for pollination. Brazil nuts are remarkably high in the micronutrient mineral selenium. One ounce (about 6 nuts) may have up to 10 times the US recommended daily selenium intake. Excess selenium intake can have deleterious effects over time, so 7 Brazil nuts a day isn’t a great idea. Problems are unlikely if you consume these only occasionally.
- Peanuts are actually legumes, like soybeans, but have a nut-like nutrient profile. Peanut plants do not require large input of water or fertilizer, so are environmentally friendly.
- Walnuts are known for having a significant omega-3 fatty acid content, as alpha linolenic acid (ALA). These fatty acids are more susceptible to oxidation and rancidity, so store walnuts in a cool place, such as the refrigerator.
Nuts are an integral part of the cuisine in many regions around the world. They’re an important source of plant protein in developing countries, when combined with grains or noodles in savory dishes. As part of a plant-centric, vegetarian or vegan diet, nuts add crunch and flavor, along with protein. One of my favorite and easy ways to use nuts is in grain dishes, with one or two vegetables and some seasoning.
Unlike meat or eggs, nuts do not need to be cooked, although they can benefit from light toasting in the oven, which enhances the flavor. Here are some easy ways to add nuts to your diet:
- Sprinkle on salads
- Use nuts in grain or noodle dishes in place of meat
- Add ground/chopped nuts to bread, muffin, quick bread and pancake/waffle recipes
- Add toasted chopped nuts to a meatless pizza (pine nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts work well)
- Sprinkle roasted vegetables with chopped nuts: walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds. Hazelnuts go well with Brussels sprouts.
- Use nut butters to make savory sauces, such as Asian style peanut sauce. Serve with grains or vegetables, or for dipping flat breads.
When eating a plant-centered diet, you don’t get all your protein from just one food in a meal. Combine protein from a variety of plant foods. Adding nuts to different dishes in a meal helps to boost overall protein intake.
7 almonds a day?
Whether you choose almonds or something else, nuts make great snack. But why 7? I really don’t know. I’d say, if you’re looking for a limit, 2-3 tablespoons of nuts would be appropriate for a snack.
Do avoid the overly seasoned salted/sweetened varieties. Nuts have a rich and satisfying flavor all their own. Added seasonings obliterate the real flavor. Stick to plain nuts, a snack that’s both satisfying and healthful.