Just how good for our health are nuts?
Q:I’m just wondering which type of nut is the healthiest? Also, is it OK to have roasted nuts or is it better to eat them raw? Thank you, Daisy.
A: This has been a really common question as I’ve been travelling throughout New Zealand on my current speaking tour entitled What am I supposed to eat? Nuts are a wonderful source of nourishing fats, minerals, protein and fibre, so all nuts are nutrientdense.
Nutritionally, raw nuts are best, as heat can lead to nutrient losses and decreased antioxidant activity. The extent to which nutrient losses occur depends on how much heat they are exposed to; generally, nutrient loss will increase with higher temperatures and longer roasting times. Another consideration is the potential for the fats to be damaged or oxidised in the roasting process. Polyunsaturated fats are much less stable than monounsaturated fats and saturated fats, so they can be easily damaged when they are
exposed to heat. But roasted nuts are still nutritious, so please don’t stop eating them if you don’t like them raw. Perhaps avoid roasting ones rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as walnuts, pecans and brazil nuts.
One of the only real challenges with nuts is that many of them are rich in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats which are inflammatory in nature so you can over-consume them. Too many people today eat and drink almond-everything; almond milk, almond butter, almond icecream, and almonds themselves throughout the day and this can contribute too much omega-6 fat to the diet.
Walnuts are one of my favourite nuts, as they contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that are great for our brain, heart and skin. Most omega-6 inflammatory fats come from processed foods though, so it is most important to minimise/omit these foods to not over-consume damaged omega-6 fats.
All nuts contain minerals (such as magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc). However, levels can vary depending on the type of nut. While most nuts contain very little selenium, brazil nuts are a fantastic source. Selenium is an antioxidant that is critical for healthy thyroid and immune function, and just two to four brazil nuts per day will meet your selenium needs.
Nuts make a perfect snack or addition to your lunchtime meal. When you include fats from whole food sources (such as nuts) in your meals, this slows the rate at which food leaves the stomach, which helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. It also slows down how quickly the glucose in the meal is absorbed in the body, keeping your energy levels stable and helping you to avoid an energy rollercoaster.
If nuts nourish you and you digest them well, I cannot encourage you enough to continue eating them regularly. Because the mineral content and fatty acid composition can vary depending on the type of nut, it’s wise to enjoy a mixture of nuts.
With that said, if I was to suggest just one or two types of nuts to include regularly in your way of eating, it would be brazil nuts for their selenium content and walnuts for the omega-3 fatty acids they contain.
❚ Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See Dr Libby live during her ‘What Am I Supposed To Eat?’ tour which is currently under way in New Zealand. For more information, visit drlibby.com
All nuts contain minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. However, levels can vary depending on the type of nut.