Go Nuts For Health!
What Are America’s 10 Most Popular Nuts?
Why Should You Eat Nuts Regularly?
How Do They Differ?
What Makes Nuts So Special?
Go nuts for your health. Read on….
Nuts are the way to put crunch, nutritional punch, and great taste in your life. In this day and age, when we no longer have to forage for our food nor even ever have to crack the shell of a nut in order to eat it, nuts have become common.
The truth is this – nuts are both super foods and superfoods. Eaten plain as snacks; hard-blended with water in nut milks; finely ground as flours (both for their own sake as well as wheat substitutes); used in all kinds of recipes from savory nut loaves to sweet nut bars, it is easy to eat more nuts. ~ Siri, your very own health nut.
Nutrition In A Nutshell!
Who knew these hard little seeds could be such bundles of nutrition? Of course, it only makes sense that anything that can initiate the growth of a tree has to be loaded with energy.
In a plant-based diet, nuts provide protein – and more. In any diet, they are the perfect healthy snack. Conveniently packaged, when left in the shell, they are a viable food source for years. Although nuts are gaining recognition as a superfood, many people continue to think of them as fat bombs. Ironically, it is the healthy fats in nuts that account in part for their ability to protect the heart and lower LDL cholesterol.
Bring nutritional punch, satisfying crunch, delicious taste and health into your day: Go nuts for your health. Read on….
Interesting to learn that a nut may not be a nut. In fact, very few popular “nuts” meet the botanical definition. A true nut is a dry, hard-shelled, unsegmented fruit that does not split to release seeds when ripe. Acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, and hazelnuts are among the true nuts. They are ready to eat as they come off the tree. Just crack the shell. Of the many types, only the hazelnut is in common use across America today.
The other categories of nut-like seeds are drupes (stone fruits), gymnosperms (pine cones), and angiosperms (e.g., peanuts ). The nuts we discuss are designated culinary nuts. Without exception, all of them have been used as food sources for eons. All are rich in heart healthy oils, starches, and protein as well as in some B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients.
Here you have the 10 most popular nuts in the US presented alphabetically with a little history, specific nutritional attributes, and other interesting information. FYI: All nuts are gluten free.
Almonds (Prunis dulcis) are drupes. They have a long history of religious, social, and cultural significance. They are one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible. (The other is the pistachio.) The ancient Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility symbol. Speculated to have origins in Central Asia, Phoenicians probably introduced the nuts to the Mediterranean countries during the 1100s.1
Currently, California produces the world’s largest almond crop. Spanish missionaries planted the trees in the 1700s, and the crop began to flourish a century later. In the last 30 years, orchards have expanded to cover over half million acres and the yield has quadrupled. Of the harvest, 70% is exported.
Together with cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts, almonds are high in monounsaturated fat. This is the omega-9 fat that makes olive oil good for your health. Almonds are high in fiber with more than 3 grams per ounce. (An ounce is about 1/4 cup.)
Of all nuts, they are highest in calcium (75 mg/oz) and magnesium (90 mg/oz), plus, very high in potassium (220 mg/oz).
They are a good source of protein at 6 grams/oz (similar to an egg).
1 People of an ancient civilization located today’s Syria and Lebanon. The Phoenicians were renowned sailors and traders.
Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are angiosperms. The huge trees topping 150 feet (and 10 feet in diameter) can live 1000 years! Up to 400,000 trees are hand-harvested annually. This is difficult because the fruit develops at the top of the trees. The fruit is a hard pod similar to a coconut. The nuts are inside packed in a ring resembling the segments of an orange. The pods require 14 months to mature. If you have ever cracked the shell of a Brazil nut, you can begin to appreciate the work that goes into bringing them to us. No wonder Brazil nuts are among the more expensive nuts.
Brazil nut trees grow in soil rich in selenium and contain from 60-1,400 mcg per oz! Just two nuts daily more than meet your selenium requirement.2
Brazil nuts contain equal amounts of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Quite oily, they have 180 calories per ounce; 4 grams of protein/oz; some fiber, a few vitamins, and an assortment of minerals.
Brazil nuts contain several milligrams of mixed tocopherols (a component of complete vitamin E).
2 Selenium is an antioxidant mineral which has a reciprocating action with vitamin E. It is heart protective, and is also thought to protect against some types of cancer. Supplements are limited to 200 mcg.
Cashews (Anacardium occidentale) are drupes and grow attached to the bottom of the cashew apple. The “apple” is delicious but little known outside the locales where the trees are grown. Although the cashew is a native of Brazil, it grows in many tropical and jungle environs. Today India is a major producer.
Like Brazil nuts, cashews are difficult to harvest and process. Once the ripe apples fall, the nuts are removed and sun-dried. Protected by a double shell, the space between contains a resinous liquid which has industrial uses, mainly as a lubricant. The papery covering is also removed before the cashews can be vacuum-packed and shipped.
Incidentally, in this age of gluten free-dom, cashew flour is available in bulk at your natural products store. It makes a remarkable gravy, particularly when combined with mushrooms.
Together with the nuts mentioned under Almonds, the cashew is high in monounsaturated-fat, giving it value for heart health and cholesterol control. Very high in plant sterols (over 95 mg in an ounce)3, they also contain a higher percentage of carbohydrate than the other nuts. Protein weighs in at 4.5 grams/oz (with 500 g as arginine4), and 1 g of fiber.
Again, similar to Brazil nuts, cashews contain selenium although in much lower quantities (30 mcg/oz), plus other minerals, including potassium at 160 mg. They contain high amounts of gamma-tocopherol and some beta- enough to form complete vitamin E when eaten with hazelnuts.
3 Research has shown that plant sterols/stanols included with a heart healthy diet may reduce heart disease risk.
The sterols/stanols work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine, lowering LDL cholesterol by 6-15%
4 Arginine is an essential amino acid that is converted into nitric oxide in the body.
Nitric oxide allows the blood vessels to relax, remain smooth, and prevent sticky blood. It is present in nuts and in high amounts in cashews, pine nuts, and walnuts.
One theory is that nitric oxide works with the healthy fats in nuts to help prevent heart disease.
Hazelnuts grow on bushes as well as trees and are native to every continent, excepting South America and Australia. Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts (Corylus colurna type), harvesting nearly 300,000 tons annually, 75% of world’s crop. (Of these, 25% go to make Nutella, a hazelnut-chocolate spread.)
No surprise, there is evidence of their use as food by prehistoric peoples, nowhere more than in Scotland. In 1995, archeologists found a large, shallow pit with the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. Radiocarbon dating showed them to be about 9000 years old.
Hazelnuts are used in confectionery and often combined with chocolate. Chocolate cake made completely with hazelnut flour is often served in upscale restaurants; hazelnuts flavor Frangelico liqueur; and many people enjoy hazelnut-flavored coffee. Hazelnut oil is strongly flavored and used as a gourmet cooking oil.
Hazelnuts are similar to almonds in nutrition. They are high in monounsaturated fat and complement the vitamin E tocopherols of the cashew.
They contain about 4 g of protein/oz and 2.5 g of fiber. Another good source of potassium, hazelnuts contain 200 mg/oz.
“Macs” (Macadamia) are often associated with the Hawaiian Islands. However, all species are native to Australia where they are a favorite food of the Indigenous Aborigines. Although the nut became known to Western botanists about 1850, it was grown in Hawaii before commercial development in Australia. Now an important tree crop in Hawaii, there are 20,200 acres under production with a value of $175 million annually.
The most unique nutrient of the unique macadamia nut is palmitoleic acid. This is an omega-7 fatty acid, which makes up 16% of the mac’s fat content5. Like the omega-9 fatty acids (oleic acid, olive oil), it is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is not essential to health. That does not mean it isn’t beneficial.
Recent studies of palmitoleic acid show promise for lowering inflammation and for supporting higher HDL and lower LDL levels. In addition, this fatty acid provides the building blocks for the enzymes that control fat burning. Researchers have investigated palmitoleic acid as a treatment for obesity.
To raise your palmitoleic acid levels significantly without eating handfuls of macs, use palmitoleic acid supplements.6
Palmitoleic acid gives the macadamia the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat. The nuts contain about 3 g of protein/oz and the same of fiber. They have about 100 mg of potassium. The oil is tasty, has a high smoke point, and is wonderful for cooking.
5 Fatty acids are oils and fats. The omega and number describe their chemical structure.
6 One of these is Sea Buckthorn, a trendy supplement with an omega-7 content of 36%.
The highest source of palmitoleic acid is wild caught fish (up to 50%). Dairy fat also contains omega-7.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea, meaning hairy stems growing underground) are not nuts at all but legumes – beans, like soybeans, limas, and peas. Rather than storing starch like the other legumes, peanuts store oil, like a nut.
Found in the Bolivian Andes, the oldest specimens date back 7,600 years. Ancient peoples from Mexico City south cultivated the peanut. Spanish explorers brought it to the Philippines while the Portuguese carried it to East Africa and China.
Called “goobers” in the South, peanuts were made famous here by Ambrose Straub, MD7, credited with the invention of peanut butter, and George Washington Carver, credited with the invention of over 300 uses for the peanut. However, the US doesn’t grow the world’s largest peanut crop. That honor goes to – China!
Introduced there by Portuguese traders in the 1600s and by American missionaries in the 1800s, peanuts became popular. Chinese peanut production began to increase greatly during the 1980s. By 2006, China had become the world’s largest peanut producer with a world share over 40%, followed by India (18.2%) and the United States of America (6.8%).
High monounsaturated fat content brings heart health. Because of its mild flavor and relatively high smoke point, peanut oil is often used in cooking.
Peanut flour is popular with chefs because of its high protein content. Peanuts are 25% protein, the highest of any nut.
They contain some B vitamins and trace minerals, but the surprise is the presence of resveratrol, the antioxidant protector of the heart and blood vessels.
7 According to author Dianne Onstad in Whole Foods Companion (2004), Dr. Straub made peanut paste to feed his toothless, elderly patients. He popularized this new food at the Chicago World Exposition of 1893, and 10 years later, patented a “mill for grinding peanuts for butter”.
Be that as it may, evidence points to the Aztecs as the originators of peanut paste. (Possibly mixing it with ground chili and spreading it on fresh tortillas.)
Pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are drupes from a native North American tree. They served as a staple food for native tribes over hundreds of years.
In The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray reports that Native Americans made a fermented nut milk called powcohicora, the root of the word hickory, a name used interchangeably with pecan.8
The pecan tree can grow to 150 feet with a 7 foot diameter, and can live up to 300 years. Although pecans were grown by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, it was a slave named Antoine, a gardener in Louisiana, whose grafting methods became the beginnings of the American pecan trade. Commercial pecan growing started in the 1880s.
The US is the biggest producer with a yield of 85-90% of the world’s pecan crop gathered from over 10 million trees. Grown across the South, Georgia harvests the largest crop. Outside the US, pecans are grown in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa.
The pecan contains heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, about 2.5 g of protein/oz, and 3 g of fiber.
It contains various minerals, including 70% of the daily manganese requirement, 70 mg/oz. It is high in plant sterols and in the potent vitamin E component gamma tocopherol.
8 Wild pecans have a very hard shell, matching hickory wood’s reputation. Though hickory and pecan wood are related, they are not the same.)
Pine Nuts (Pinus spp.) are gymnosperms. Except for the ginkgo nut, these nuts are edible seeds harvested from pine cones. Obviously, they were part of the staple diet of indigenous peoples wherever they grew. This is true in the US today where pine nuts are mainly harvested and marketed by Native Americans of the Southwest.
Six varieties are commonly used throughout the world. Main growers are Russia, China, Italy, Mexico, North Africa, and the American Southwest. In recent years, the price has risen especially for shelled pine nuts because of poor yield. At one time, the shelled nuts were mainly from Italy but recently, they seem to come from China.
Web research revealed several sites selling the superior US nuts, emphasizing the savings from “buying local” and shelling your own. The tiny nut can be shelled by roasting lightly, putting in a cloth bag and rolling with a rolling pin. The delicate aromatic pine-like flavor is very rewarding. Shelled nuts can become rancid quickly and are best stored in the freezer.
Pine nuts are higher in polyunsaturated fat than monounsaturated and also contain vitamin E tocopherols. They have about 5 g of protein/oz with 1000 mg of arginine (2x that in cashews), 2 grams of fiber, and 250 mg of potassium.
Famously used in pesto, they are delicious mixed with pomegranate seeds.
Pistachios (Pistacia vera) is a member of the cashew family (which also includes mangoes). A native of the Middle East, its name comes from the Persian for tree, pistah. Associated with the Holy Land, pistachios are the other nut mentioned in the Bible. The nuts are characterized by their bright green flesh and grow individually enclosed in clusters like grapes. Trees are about 20 feet high and take 20 years to peak. They produce only on alternative years.
California is the world’s leader in pistachio growing. In Healthy Nuts, Gene Spiller, PhD, tells the story of two Americans sent on an unofficial mission to the USSR in the 1930s. In secret, one of them crossed into Persia (Iran) and came back with a bag of pistachio seeds. Through 30 years of perseverance, with all the magic and ups and downs of such a tale, the dream came together, resulting in the beginning of pistachio farming in California.
Romance seems to surround this nut with stories involving the Queen of Sheba hoarding them and of the Emperor Vitellius enjoying them after meals.
The truth about pistachios is that their nutritional value is high. They are 50% oil, most of which is monounsaturated.
They contain 6 g of protein per ounce and 3 g of fiber. They have vitamin E components; 310 mg of potassium (highest of the nuts), and 60 g of sterols.
Because of their green color, they are a rich source of chlorophyll.
As pine nuts are famous for pesto, pecans for pecan pie, the food of pistachios is baklava, a Greek pastry made with filo dough, nuts, and honey.
Walnuts are in the family Jugandaceae. What we now call the English walnut originated in Persia while the black walnut is native to North America. Murray calls them “the oldest tree food known to humans”.
The world produced a total of 2.55 million metric tons of walnuts in 2010. China is the world’s largest producer of walnuts, with a total harvest of 1.06 million metric tons. The other major producers of walnuts are (in the order of decreasing harvest): Iran, United States (California), Turkey, Ukraine, Mexico, Romania, India, France and Chile.
Walnuts hit the big time in 1993 with the publication of the Loma Linda Walnut Study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which has been followed by dozens of studies looking at the effects of varying nuts on heart health, made it possible to pronounce walnuts as heart healthy nuts. This is particularly interesting since walnuts are high in the more vulnerable polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than monounsaturated.
Maybe this is because walnuts have the distinction of containing alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid and the precursor to EPA and DHA. These are the fatty acids that are so rich in deep water fish and wild game, and they are also good for the heart.
One of the reasons Loma Linda University is interested in walnuts is because their constituents are Seventh Day Adventists, vegans by religious belief. Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH, found that study participants had higher levels of these fats just by eating two ounces of walnuts daily.
An ounce of walnuts contains about 4 g of protein, 1.5 g fiber, 50 mg plant sterols, and 140 mg of potassium.
Siri Says: Nuts are good for you. Particularly, raw nuts with their oils viable and in tact. Eat a handful for your heart every day. Choose any of the nuts discussed in this newsletter. Your heart will love you for it.