Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Elson M. Haas M.D.
(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition:
The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine)


Nuts are one of nature?s richest foods. They have
good-quality protein and are even higher in fats (as
oils) than the seeds. Because of that, they are more
caloric than other vegetable foods (remember, each
gram of fat has nine calories, over twice that of
protein or carbohydrate), so they are not a food that
should be eaten in abundance unless we are trying to
gain weight. For vegetarians, nuts may be the most
concentrated foods they eat, and their main source of
Like the seeds, nuts are bundles of potential, the
part of the plant that feeds the future generations.
The calories, proteins, fatty acids, and many vitamins
and minerals are what provide the energy for the early
growth of the next nut tree. There are more than 300
types of nuts. Besides those discussed below, hickory
nuts, macadamias, and pinenuts are also common. Most
nuts are the fruit or seed that follows the blossoming
of the tree. They are usually contained in a hard
shell to protect them from birds, insects, and germs
and also to keep them fresh, since the concentrated
oils contained in nuts can easily rancidify and spoil
in the air.

Because of the spoilage problem of these oil-rich
nuts, picking or buying the fresh, raw, unshelled
(with shells) nuts are the best. They will store
longer than any other. Once the shells are removed,
nuts should be kept in closed containers or plastic
bags in the refrigerator or even the freezer. If left
out in containers or bags, they should be eaten within
a month. Nuts will store longer in a cool, dry place
in closed containers than left in the air or in damp
areas. Roasted, salted nuts are best avoided. The salt
is not needed, and roasting affects the oils and
decreases the B vitamin and mineral content. Be aware
of places that feed you free salted nuts, such as bars
or airplanes, to increase your thirst, and your drink

Sadly, most nuts in American society are eaten after
they are roasted in even more oil and salted, and
often with other additives or sugars. Raw nuts,
especially almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts, are
probably the best. Peanuts, especially in peanut
butter, are not easy to digest, and there is concern
about potentially toxic molds containing aflatoxin, a
potential carcinogen that grows on this leguminous
nut/bean. Many people have some trouble digesting nuts
because of the high fat content, which is even worse
after roasting. The nut foods are not the easiest to
digest; this is true especially in people with low
stomach acid or gallbladder problems. Overweight
individuals with gallstone or gallbladder disease
often have difficulty digesting fatty foods in
general. To process the nuts in our body, we usually
need a good level of hydrochloric acid, fat-digesting
enzymes ( lipases ), and bile secreted by our
gallbladder and liver.

Besides raw, fresh nuts and the roasted varieties,
nuts can be cooked into foods such as grains and
vegetable dishes. This will often add the other needed
essential amino acids to make more complete proteins.
A nut-seed blended mix such as
almonds-sunflower-sesame with a little added sea salt
can be kept in a jar in the refrigerator and used as a
protein seasoning. Nuts can be blended into flours as
well as used in baking with other flours. These also
need refrigeration to keep the other, lighter flours
from rancidifying. The use of nut butters as snack
foods is growing. Peanut butter is, of course, the
most common, but now many other butters are
commercially available, such as almond, cashew, and
even pistachio and macadamia nut butters, as many
people move away from peanut butter. Nut milks are
also becoming popular as nourishing milk substitutes
and as wholesome drinks, especially for children. If
we do not already have a high-fat diet, nuts and even
a little bit of the nut butters are a much better
snack than sugary foods, particularly in regard to
nutrition and the sustained level of energy that comes
from their metabolism.

In terms of nutrient content, nuts are among the best
of the vegetable foods. Their fat content is, of
course, fairly high, but it is mostly unsaturated
fats, which are better for us than the saturated. The
inner white meat of the dried coconut, however, is
rich in saturated fats and thus more of a concern in
regards to cardiovascular problems. The essential
fatty acids and vitamin E are also part of the nut
oils. Almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and peanuts are
the best in vitamin E content. Total fat content
varies, from peanuts at 50 percent to pecans (and
macadamias), the richest, at 70 percent fat.

The protein content of nuts is very good, with a
fairly balanced amino acid distribution, which may be
why the edible part of the nuts are termed ?meats.?
They are the meat of the plant world. The nuts are
somewhat lower in tryptophan and methionine, so the
amino acid balance becomes more balanced when nuts are
combined with a grain food at meals.

Most nuts have a general cross section of the B
vitamins but are not real high in any, though peanuts
are pretty rich in niacin. They are, however, very
well endowed with the minerals, particularly
potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and other
trace minerals. Nuts are very low in sodium when
unsalted, and some nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts,
and pecans, even have some selenium.

In general, nuts can be used as a protein- and
energy-rich snack food as a midmorning or midafternoon
treat. Eaten alone in their raw state, and not much
more than a handful, they should be fairly easily
digested and assimilated by our bodies.



Almonds Hazelnuts
Brazil nuts Peanuts
Cashews Pecans
Chestnuts Pistachios
Coconuts Walnuts

Almonds. Almonds are probably the best all-around nut.
Their fat content is less than most, about 60 percent,
and the protein concentration is nearly 20 percent.
The almond nuts are the fruits of a small tree that
grows nearly thirty feet tall and is abundant in many
areas of the world, including Asia, the Mediterranean,
and North America. Almonds which are of the soft-shell
variety possess a sweeter nut than those in hard
shells, which may be slightly bitter. The presence of
2?4 percent amygdalin, commonly known as laetrile, has
caused almonds to be considered as a cancer-preventing
Most of the fats of the almond are polyunsaturated and
are high in linoleic acid, our main essential oil.
Almond oil is a very stable oil used in pharmaceutical
preparations, to hold scents in fragrant oils, or for
massage therapy. Almonds are very high in vitamin E,
and contain some B vitamins. Calcium is also found in
high amounts, and almonds or homemade almond milk (see
recipes in Chapter 14) can be used as a tasty calcium
source. Copper, iron, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus
are also present in good amounts, as are magnesium and
manganese. Sodium is very low. Some selenium is

Brazil Nuts. These are the very meaty and high-fat
hard-shelled ?seeds? of which about 10?20 are found in
each big fruit of the very large (nearly 100 feet
high) Brazil nut trees. Brazil nuts are a good-quality
protein, yet are also about two-thirds fat, of which
over 20 percent is saturated. The oil from this nut
turns rancid easily and is not used commercially.

Brazil nuts are known to be rich in calcium, as well
as magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus,
potassium, and selenium. Zinc and iron are also found
in good proportions in this high-mineral nut.

Cashews. Cashews are thought by some to be a toxic
nut, probably because of the caustic oils found in the
hard shell. Lightly roasting cashews may help to clear
these oils. These sweet nuts are the real fruit of
their 25- or 30-foot trees that grow best in tropical
climates. These trees also provide another ?fruit,?
the edible ?cashew apple? that grows prior to the nut.
Cashews are fairly rich in magnesium, potassium, iron,
and zinc. Calcium is lower in cashews than in other
nuts, as is manganese; cashews also have a lower fat
and higher carbohydrate level than most other nuts.
Some B vitamins are present, as is vitamin A, though
very little vitamin E is found in cashews.

Chestnuts. These are the classic nut of the winter
holiDay s throughout the world. Hot, roasted chestnuts
can be a warming and nourishing snack for our innards.
Chestnuts are very high in starch (carbohydrate) and
low in protein and fats and therefore lower in
calories (less than half) than other nuts. Chestnuts
have lower levels of most minerals than other nuts,
but they are still very good in manganese, potassium,
magnesium, and iron.

Coconuts. The big nuts (fruits) of the common tropical
palm tree, this large fruit has a thick husk covering,
a very hard shell that surrounds the rich coconut
meat. A nourishing liquid, called the coconut ?milk?
comes from the soft meat of the fresh green coconut.
When the coconut dries or ripens, this ?meat? becomes
hard and much of the oils become saturated. The dried
coconut meat contains about 65 percent oil, mainly as
saturated fat which is solid or semisolid at room
temperature. This oil, though, also has some
nourishment and essential fatty acids and has been
used in cooking and baking as well as in soaps,
shampoos, and cosmetics. Coconut is used in cooking
much more in the South Pacific and East Indian
cultures than in ours, probably because they have
fewer foods with good fat content. The fresh milk can
be used as a marinade for fish, as salad dressing, or
made into a yogurt-like dish. Coconut has a little
protein, about 10 percent; some carbohydrate and
fiber; and traces of the B vitamins, vitamin C, and
vitamin E. It has some amounts of many minerals, with
potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and iron
being the best.

Hazelnuts. These are the fruits or seeds of a small
shrub or tree that usually grows between six and
twelve feet tall. They are also called filberts
because they ripen about the time of St. Philibert?s
Day , August 20. The numerous varieties produce either
round or elongated nuts. They are usually eaten raw or
fried and are often used in confection making or as
flavorings in sweet sauces.

Hazelnuts have one of the higher vitamin E levels of
the nuts. Their protein content is about 15 percent,
and they are nearly 65 percent fat, mostly
unsaturated, being high in essential linoleic acid.
Hazelnuts have a fairly good level of the B vitamins
and are rich in most minerals such as calcium,
magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, and potassium, as
well as some trace minerals, including zinc and

Peanuts. The most peculiar of the nuts, and the most
common in our culture, peanuts are not in fact a true
nut but a legume or pea (thus ?peanuts?), which grows
on a small bush that yields small, soft, fibrous
shells each containing usually two or three ?nuts.?
Peanuts, or ?goobers,? grow commonly in the southern
United States but are now grown largely in China and
India, where their oil is used widely in cooking.
Peanuts are also called ?monkey nuts? because monkeys
love them, as do little human monkeys, especially as
peanut butter here in the United States. In poorer,
more populated countries, such as China, India, and
Africa, peanuts are used in the daily diet in many
vegetarian dishes, to which they add more complete

Peanuts probably have as good an amino acid balance as
any vegetable food. They are about 25 percent protein
and very rich in nutrients. Their fat content is about
50 percent of the nut, and three-fourths of it is
unsaturated. The B vitamin content of peanuts is
better than that of most nuts, probably because they
are a bean. Niacin and biotin are best, but all B
vitamins are represented except B12. Potassium,
magnesium, and phosphorus are highest of the minerals,
while calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are
also found in substantial amounts.

Stored peanuts may easily become moldy, a concern
especially for those sensitive to molds. Peanuts have
been known to become contaminated with molds
containing aflatoxin, a substance that is thought to
be carcinogenic. Also of concern is that much of the
peanut butter consumed in this country is the
processed variety, with not only the high fat and oil
content of peanuts but additional hydrogenated fats,
which are more toxic in the body. (See discussion of
hydrogenated oils in Chapter 4, Lipids , and in the
next section, Oils .) More additives?salt, sugar,
dextrose, and others?make this manufactured peanut
butter a poor quality food. Many companies now use
ground peanuts only to make their butters; better yet,
some stores have nut grinders where we can make our
peanut butter right on the spot. It is best to
refrigerate shelled peanuts and peanut butter to avoid

Many people eat roasted and salted peanuts more than
the fresh variety. Though a mild roasting of the
peanut may make it a little easier to digest and not
lower the nutrient value too much, the extra salt is
not really needed. Some people do not do well on
peanuts at all. Digestive problems, gallbladder
irritation, or just plain allergy to these nuts are
possible. Overall, they are still the most popular
American nut and a good-quality food.

Pecans. Pecans are nuts for a special treat, such as
for holiDay s or in the traditional pecan pie, usually
sweetened with maple syrup. Pecans (and macadamias),
however, contain the lowest protein (about 10 percent)
and highest fat (over 70 percent) of all the nuts.
They grow on large trees often taller than 100 feet;
the nuts are about four to a pecan fruit, each nut
protected by a hard, woodlike shell. In fact, pecan
shells can be ground and used as wood sculpture
material (I have a pecan shell lion in my collection).

Pecans contain some vitamins A, E, and C, niacin, and
other B vitamins. They are low in sodium and high in
most other minerals, including zinc, iron, potassium,
selenium, and magnesium. Copper, calcium, and
manganese are present in fairly good amounts as well.

Pistachios. Pistachios are those sweet and flavorful
nuts of which it is ?hard to eat just one.? The
pistachio nut or fruit grows on a small tree usually
about 10?15 feet high and is very popular in the
Mediterranean and middle Eastern countries. It is most
commonly eaten in the shell but is also used in
cooking, in making sauces, as flavoring in baking
cakes, and in ice creams. It is best to avoid the less
healthy salted and red-dyed pistachio nut and go with
the natural variety.

Pistachios are about 20 percent protein and 50?55
percent fat and have good levels of thiamine, niacin,
folic acid, and a little vitamin A. The potassium and
iron levels are both very high; sodium is very low;
phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium are all present in
pretty fair amounts; while zinc, copper, and manganese
are at modest levels.

Walnuts . Another of the great nuts, walnuts are a
real brain food (they even look like little brains).
The fatty acids and the 15?20 percent protein level
nourish the nervous system, and the walnut when
shelled looks remarkedly like the human cerebral
cortex. The walnut is about 65 percent fat. It can be
eaten raw or used in baking, and the pressed walnut
oil can be used in cooking or even for oiling wood. It
should be used fresh, though, as it is not very
resistant to spoilage.

Walnuts have a modest mix of vitamin A, the Bs
(including biotin), C, and E. Their mix of minerals is
similar to that of most of the other nuts, with many
at good levels. Probably iron and potassium are the
best in this very balanced nut, which grows on large
trees as high as 40?50 feet in many parts of the
world, including the United States.

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