Nuts and seeds are an important part of a whole-food, plant-based diet. They are an unprocessed source of fat, and fat is necessary for a healthy diet. Without it, we could be vulnerable to dry rashes, vitamin deficiencies, hair loss, or even a weaker immune system.
Fat is a vital nutrient required for energy, cell growth, hormone production, and the absorption of essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K. It also serves as a cushion for our organs and helps maintain body temperature.
While the term ‘fat’ might be associated with unhealthy diets, not all fats are created equal. Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts and seeds, are indispensable for optimal health.
Nuts and seeds stand out for their numerous health benefits. In this article, we’ll delve into the importance of incorporating nuts and seeds into a plant-based diet, highlighting their nutritional value, health advantages, and why they are preferable over oils.
The Debate Over Eating Nuts
While nuts and seeds are considered quite healthy, there is some debate among whole food advocates about whether we should eat them at all. Dr. Cadwell Esselstyn does not recommend nuts and seeds for heart disease patients, and I would say to follow your conscious or doctor’s advice in this case.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, on the other hand, advises that nuts and seeds are essential for good health and even weight loss. His article, Nuts and Seeds Essential for Good Health and Weight Loss, is a great summary of the benefits of eating nuts and seeds. I tend to come down on the side of Dr. Fuhrman.
Nutrition in Nuts
Nuts are packed with beneficial nutrition. Studies have shown that if you eat 1-2 servings of nuts per day, you are “less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease,” according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Individuals who ate nuts daily were 20 percent less likely to have died during the course of the study than those who avoided nuts. Now that’s a great endorsement!
- Healthy Fats: They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol levels.
- Proteins: They provide essential amino acids, which are crucial for growth and repair.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins like E and minerals like magnesium, they play a vital role in numerous biological functions.
- Fiber: This helps with digestion and can aid in weight management.
Health Advantages of Eating Nuts and Seeds
- Heart Health: Regular consumption of nuts and seeds has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease due to their cholesterol-lowering effects.
- Weight Management: They provide a sense of fullness, which can prevent overeating.
- Reducing Risk of Chronic Diseases: Their anti-inflammatory properties may help lower the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes.
- Cognitive Function: Nutrients in nuts and seeds have been found to promote brain health.
Nuts and Seeds vs. Process Oils
The debate over eating processed oils is ongoing, and although some studies have pointed to the health benefits of olive oil, notably a study from August 2023, all oils lack the variety of nutrients found in whole nuts and seeds. The studies compare the use of olive oil instead of processed or animal fats. That makes some sense since the elimination of animal fats would surely benefit health.
Anne-Julie Tessier, who was part of the study, cautioned that “the research is observational and does not prove that olive oil is the cause of the reduced risk of fatal dementia. Additional studies such as randomized controlled trials would be needed to confirm the effects and determine the optimal quantity of olive oil to consume in order to reap these benefits.”
However, here’s why nuts and seeds are preferable:
- Whole Food Benefits: Nuts and seeds provide a combination of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, unlike oils that contain fat only.
- Calorie Density: Oils are highly concentrated in calories. Eating nuts and seeds provide the needed fats but with more nutritional balance.
- Less Processing: Most oils undergo processing that can reduce their nutritional value, while nuts and seeds can be consumed in their natural form.
Is Cooking with Oil OK?
I realize that oil is used in many types of cooking, and for alternatives, I suggest your read my article, Cooking without Oil. I offer a myriad of suggestions on how to saute, roast, and bake without oil. If you feel you must use oil, an uncommon suggestion by Dr. Dean Ornish is canola oil. Dr. Ornish is known for helping people reverse heart disease. For all the deets on why using canola oil is better than even olive oil, read this article by Dr. Dean Ornish, The Great Olive Oil Misconception — Dr. Ornish Responds.
Raw vs. Roasted Nuts and Seeds
Roasting nuts can damage their polyunsaturated fats, but the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats are kept intact. Otherwise, there’s not much nutritional difference between raw and roasted. The problem with store-bought roasted nuts and seeds, however, is that they’re coated in vegetable oil and can be salted.
For some people, raw nuts are harder to digest than roasted. Others think that raw nuts need to be soaked in water prior to consumption or roasting to remove the phytic acid, which can interfere with nutrient absorption.
Technically nuts are not 100% raw because they are required by the USDA to be pasteurized to prevent salmonella.
Acrylamides in Roasted or Toasted Foods
Acrylamides form naturally in any type of food, including plant-based foods, during high-temperature cooking processes like roasting and toasting. While studies suggest potential concerns about excessive acrylamide consumption, particularly in relation to their role as possible carcinogens, it’s crucial to strike a balance.
Remembering that nuts and seeds are quite nutritious you can either opt for raw if you’re concerned or try them lightly roasted. The recipes below for nuts do not involve very high temperatures. Also remember, nuts are high in calories and it’s recommended to eat no more than an ounce or two per day.
Roast Your Own Nuts
If you haven’t thought about it before, you might consider roasting your own nuts and seeds at home because store-bought nuts and seeds are typically coated with oil. When you make them at home, you can skip the oil and dry roast them instead.
What Kind of Nuts and Seeds Should You Purchase?
Roasting nuts and seeds starts with purchasing them raw. As mentioned earlier, nuts are not technically 100% raw because they are required by the USDA to be pasteurized to prevent salmonella. Raw nuts and seeds are available at most grocery stores. I’ve had luck with buying raw mixed nuts from Sprouts and Whole Foods. You can also buy them separately. For example, raw walnuts, almonds, pistachios, brazil, hazelnuts, and pecans.
Any combination works well. I like to purchase raw mixed nuts and then add extra raw cashews since they are usually light in a raw nut mix.
Because nuts have a high percentage of fat, they can go rancid. Give them the ‘ol sniff test before purchasing. If they smell rancid, don’t buy them. Be sure to store nuts and seeds in the freezer to keep them fresh until you’re ready to use them.
Another note of caution, do not consume large quantities of Brazil nuts. I did not find an exact recommendation but generally, less than 3 a day. They are high in selenium which can be toxic with excess exposure. However, Brazil nuts are still quite health-promoting. For a detailed article about how they can lower cholesterol, read this article from nutritionfacts.org, Four Brazil Nuts a Day…
How to Roast Nuts and Seeds Three Ways
On the Stovetop:
Preheat an ungreased heavy skillet over medium heat. Add nuts in a single layer. Stir constantly until the nuts are as toasted as you like them. They’ll start to smell toasty when ready.
In the Oven:
I prefer this method. Roast raw nuts and seeds without added oil by spreading them on an unlined baking sheet in a 325-degree oven for about 10-12 minutes. Flip them occasionally or stir them at least once. They won’t stick. If you’d like to add a tad of salt, use the 50% salt substitute, such as Mortin’s Lite Salt. I haven’t tried any completely no-salt substitute, but I’ll bet it’d be yummy.
Nuts that are directly under the burners tend to brown more quickly to keep a close watch. Once the nuts, especially cashews, turn a light golden color, they are done. Be cautious because they can become too dark quickly and then may have a burnt flavor.
The toaster oven works well, too, if you just want to toast a small quantity. You’ll be surprised at how delicious these roasted nuts are compared to store-bought roasted nuts. The beautiful flavor of each nut comes through.
In an Air Fryer:
This may be the quickest method of roasting. If the nuts or seeds can fall through the holes, like the basket with air fryer parchment paper. Normal parchment paper can block heat. Turn the temperature to 300°F (no need to preheat). Add 1 cup of raw nuts to the basket. Toast for 5 minutes and check for doneness. Nut toasting may vary by type.
Storage for Nuts and Seeds
My favorite way to store nuts and seeds is in a quart glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as these from Amazon.
What About Raw Nuts?
Raw nuts are used in plant-based, vegan sauces, non-dairy milk, such as my Homemade Almond Milk, as well as in non-dairy cheeses and yogurts. You might also enjoy this recipe for Bitchin’ Sauce which is a delicious dip and dressing also made with raw almonds.
Roasting your own nuts raw gives you more control and is a great option for a snack. They are delicious, added to salads and oatmeal, or used in recipes such as this Banana Bread with Maple Glaze recipe.
Ways to Use Roasted Nuts:
I hope you decide that eating nuts and seeds is a great alternative to other types of fats and is better for your health overall.