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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Sometimes We Feel Like a Nut

People’s penchant for eating nuts and seeds hails from the time of our Stone Age ancestors. Ground nuts smell good, raw nuts taste good, and a daily handful of nuts will make us feel good.

Our hunter gatherer forebears knew this. Now scientists, nutritionists and health food experts know why. They rightfully regard nuts and seeds as a superfood.Why Go Nuts Author Elizabeth Somer notes in Origin Diet that “Up to 65 percent of our original diets were fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and other plants. The other 35 percent came from wild game.” She points out that nuts, like primitive game, come loaded with healthful omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Though fairly rich in calories, “90 percent of nut fats are the heart-healthy kind,” confirms Dr. Bill Sears, an associate clinical professor at the University of California. He notes that most nuts constitute a rich source of “protein, fiber, B-vitamins, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc and antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium.”

Hundreds of modern-day studies confirm that diets that incorporate humans’ basic ancestral food groups prove to be among the healthiest. Nuts and seeds are right up there with foods that help lower risk of disease, prevent obesity, boost energy, lift mood, improve nervous system function and slow aging. We also believe they provide nutrients essential to fetus development, childhood brainpower, and a clear, well-functioning, mature mind.

Little debate exists as to our need for nuts and seeds. Instead, discussion revolves around which ones are best. The rule of thumb is that we should eat 1 to 2 ounces of nuts and seeds—or up to 4 tablespoons—a day, or at least twice a week. Sears says a handful of nuts generally runs about 200 calories.

It’s okay to get creative as long as we don’t overdo the calories. The secret lies in substituting nuts high in good fats, such as omega-3 and -6, for menu ingredients high in bad fats, like fried oils, “cooking” oils and hydrogenated oils.

For example, nuts can replace chocolate chips in nonfat cookies and muffins. Organic nut butters made from almonds, cashews or sesame seeds, or even non-hydrogenated peanut butter, on whole grain toast, can replace meat. Many health nuts also like to sprinkle a spoonful of raw sunflower or sesame seeds on their salads. It’s best to soak small hard seeds in distilled water before grinding them into meal to release nutrients. Roasting any nut seriously compromises benefits.

Top Nuts Walnuts get the nod from authorities as a high-end “brain food” that benefits other organs as well. In New Foods Encyclopedia, Rebecca Wood quips that this is easy to remember since the structure of walnuts in the shell looks like two brain hemispheres encased in a thin husk scalp beneath a hard skull. In his book, Anti-Aging Prescriptions, Professor James Duke goes so far as to liken walnuts to a sort of natural Prozac. Walnuts are known to affect serotonin levels that control mood and appetite without the side effects of a manmade drug.

Gandhi especially liked flax seeds, a dense source of omega-3. Recently this plant oil has gained ground as a tasty alternative to fish oil. Witness flax’s popularity at the trendy Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona, this past year.

Almonds top Bill and Martha Sears’ favored nuts on their well-informed website, They lead the list of nine winning nuts packed with the most nutrition and least saturated fat. Almonds are followed by filberts (hazelnuts), peanuts, chestnuts, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, pecans and macadamias. The couple—she’s a registered nurse—note that peanuts and soybean nuts are actually nutritious legumes. In addition to sunflower and sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds win honorable mention for their blood-building iron. Fresh gingko nuts, too, are believed to improve blood flow throughout the body, particularly to the brain.

A nutrition newsletter reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved heart-health claims for a select handful of nuts. But they have yet to catch onto the comparable benefits of other nuts and leading seeds.

Source: S. Alison Chabonais

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