Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews… You name it. We’re nuts for them! But did you know that besides being delicious, nuts have incredible health benefits?
Since we include nuts in many different meals throughout the week, we’d like to share some interesting facts about nuts!
What makes a nut a nut?
Nuts are fruits, composed of an edible seed and an inedible hard shell. They are the source of energy and nutrients for a new plant.
In a culinary sense, there is a wide variety of nuts available, all with their own characteristics differing in taste and nutrients. Botanically however, quite a few of these nuts are technically speaking not classified as nuts at all.
Many are in fact seeds, take for example walnuts, almonds, cashews and pine nuts. And did you know that peanuts are legumes? Just like pees, they grow in pods and mature underground!
These fruits are all referred to as nuts as they are relatively large in size and similar in oil content, just like real nuts.
Pecans and hazelnuts are true nuts, meaning that the ovary hardens as the fruit matures, in which a seed remains unattached to that ovary on the inside.
Today, we will be discussing nuts that fall under the culinary term, and you’ll discover that all of these seeds, nuts, and legumes have some amazing health benefits!
Interesting facts about nuts
High in fats – All nuts (and seeds and legumes) contain a high amount of oil. Fats are an incredibly important part of our diet, although the term ‘fat’ might suggest otherwise to some of you! Fats are additionally a necessary source of energy, and they help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K (because they are fat-soluble).
Note however, that not all fats are equal and some types of fats are healthier than others. Nuts are considered to be healthy, because they mainly contain unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found in nuts and vegetable oils, whereas saturated fats are found in meat and dairy (and are often part of many processed foods such as biscuits).
Saturated fats can indirectly lead to coronary heart disease. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats has been proven to decrease the level of blood cholesterol.
High in calories – Although most fats in nuts are unsaturated, the high fat content in nuts however also makes that nuts are incredibly high in calories. Fat contains more than twice the amount of calories compared to protein and carbohydrates.
When you include nuts as a topper for your morning oats, like we often do, it’s hence clever to skip nuts for the rest of your day. A handful a day would be a good guideline. And don’t forget that this also includes nut butters and other seeds!
Essential fatty acids – Besides containing regular fats, which are important in your metabolism, nuts contain other fats that are a little more special.
Nuts contain essential fatty acids – fats that your body can’t create and hence have to be included in your diet. These fats don’t act as fuel, but they are required for biological processes within our bodies and we cannot function without them.
There are two essential fatty acids, and nuts contain both of them: alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. These are more commonly referred to as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
High in protein – Nuts have an incredibly high protein content. This makes them ideal in a vegetarian or plant based diet.
When excluding meat and/or dairy from your diet, it is often assumed that it can be challenging to consume enough protein. There are quite a few plant based products that are high in protein though, and nuts definitely belong on that list!
Versatile ingredient – Not only are nuts delicious as a snack throughout the day, they also make great ingredients in recipes or toppers for food. We often use cashews to create vegan “cheese” sauces or vegan bechamel, and we include almonds in our smoothies. But we also top our morning oats with walnuts, or with a combination of hazelnuts and cocoa powder! And before you use nuts as a topper on your food, don’t forget to roast them if they aren’t already – it will make a world of difference in your taste experience!
Common allergens – Tree nut allergies are very common food allergies, especially among children. As with all allergies, the immune system reacts upon a protein present in the nut and the body will show symptoms within 20 to 120 minutes after consumption.
If a person who’s allergic to nuts happens to consume some allergens, it often results in swelling of the face, hives on the skin, tingling in the mouth and stomach pain. Although most reactions are moderate, it can even result in breathing difficulties and dizziness, and can form life-threatening situations in the extreme case scenario.
Nutrient analysis of raw nuts
We include quite a number of nuts in our diet. Hence, we thought it would be interesting to create a table, to show the difference in some important nutrients
Type of nut Protein Fat Monounsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat Carbohydrate Dietary fiber
Almond 21.15 49.93 31.55 12.33 21.55 12.5
Cashew 18.22 43.85 23.80 7.845 30.19 3.3
Hazelnut 14.95 60.75 45.65 7.920 16.70 9.7
Macadamia 7.91 75.77 58.88 1.50 13.82 8.6
Peanut 25.19 48.75 25.58 14.88 16.54 8.5
Pecan 9.17 71.97 40.80 21.61 13.86 9.6
Pistachio 20.16 45.32 23.26 14.38 27.17 10.6
Walnut 15.23 65.21 8.93 47.17 13.71 6.7
Omega 6 and omega 3 balance
Walnuts have the highest amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They hence contain the highest amount of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
The balance between omega 6 and 3 fatty acids is incredibly important. On average, a ratio of 4:1 is preferred, but certain doctors even recommend a balance closer to 1:1 (omega 6 and omega 3 respectively).
The balance in walnuts is 4.2:1, which is the best balance of these two essential fatty acids in all nuts, making them the best nut to consume regarding this balance. One must however keep in mind that if any additional omega 6 fatty acids are consumed in other food, the balance will be disrupted immediately.
Since balancing your omega 6 and 3 fatty acid ratio can be incredibly difficult, we will write about this in a blog post soon!
We would like to end with this video by two of our favorite youtubers: The Happy Pear. They too agree on walnuts being the healthiest nut due to the ratio in omega’s!