Breaking down the nuts

Although the link between weight gain and nut intake has been disproven, the usual high cost of nuts is another barrier to the increase in daily intake by consumers.
Representative image
Representative image

CHENNAI: The possibility that nut intake may defend human health is an interesting point of view and has been investigated worldwide. Consequently, nuts are commonly promoted as healthy. In recent decades, the number of investigations proposing a correlation between nut consumption and a decrease in the risk of key chronic diseases has continued to increase.

Currently, consumers are concerned about making a diversified and well-balanced diet. Therefore, the inclusion of nuts in the diet has undergone significant increases due to a growing recognition of their unique nutritional value, distinctive taste, flavour, nutraceutical properties, and healthy bioactive compounds, including high-quality proteins, fibres, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, and phenolic compounds.

In addition, the ease of transport due to their size makes them even more recommended to be consumed in all situations. The consumption of nuts is often related to reducing risk factors for chronic diseases, due to the fatty acid profiles, squalene, fibres, vegetable proteins, minerals, vitamins, carotenoids, and phytosterols with potential antioxidant action.

Nuts are botanically categorised as tree nuts and peanuts. Nuts have hard shells covering the seed, and examples of frequently consumed tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, macadamias, and pistachios.

There are many phytochemicals present in nuts that can be responsible for their health-promoting activities. Of those, one must refer to the vitamins, carotenoids, phenolic acids, or flavonoids, and their role in the prevention of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases, but also to phytoestrogens, organosulfur compounds, fibre, or isothiocyanates.

Nuts have been traditionally considered a high-fat and high-calorie food that should be consumed in moderation, which may be part of why their intake is still below the recommended amount. Although the link between weight gain and nut intake has been disproven, the usual high cost of nuts is another barrier to the increase in daily intake by consumers. The intake of nuts has been linked to several benefits to health, including favourable plasma lipid profiles, reduced risk of coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, atherosclerosis, type-2 diabetes, inflammation, and several other chronic diseases.

Nutritional profile

Protein: Nuts are a rich source of proteins and essential amino acids. The major sources of proteins are peanuts, almonds, and pistachios, while chestnuts are the poorest in proteins. Although nut proteins are often recognised as incomplete proteins (i.e., do not contain all essential amino acids) when compared to animal proteins, their consumption is strongly associated with cardiovascular health. The health benefits can be enhanced by combining different protein sources to provide adequate levels of all essential amino acids.

Vitamins: Nuts contain fat-soluble vitamins (ascorbic acid, B1, B2, B3, B6) and antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), promoting better health, playing an important role against the ageing process, improving brain function, and helping consumers to have healthy skin.

 Minerals: Nuts are also rich sources of minerals such as magnesium and potassium. These two minerals may be protective against coronary heart disease. Nuts are also fairly high in potassium, particularly pistachio and cashew nuts. Most nuts have a decent amount of zinc and iron, but pine nuts, cashews, and almonds stand above the rest.

 Fibre: It is a health-promoting nut ingredient. The intake of dietary fibre is inversely related to obesity, type-2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Almonds present the highest content of fibre.

 Lipids and fatty acids: Hazelnut presents one of the highest contents of fat, above 60%. Pistachios and walnuts are also rich in fat. The fats that are majorly present are PUFA, and MUFA. MUFA is the second most important type of fatty acid. Linoleic and linolenic acids are the ones responsible for the high amount of PUFA, with oleic as the major MUFA.

Nutriwise

Sadhvika Srinivas

@sadhvikaaa (dietitiansadhvika@gmail.com)

(Sadhvika is a clinical nutritionist who attends to metabolic disorders. She also works towards sports nutrition.)

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