Nuts

In the popular sense the term “nut” is applied to a seed or fruit with an edible kernel inside a brittle or hard shell; the botanical definition is somewhat more complicated.

– remains have been found in archaeological sites dating back to before 10,000 BC. They were an important food item for the hunter-gatherers and were brought into cultivation at a very early date; it has been suggested that nut harvesting might have taken place before cultivation of cereals in agriculture. Most nut species are now cultivated, although Brazil nuts are harvested entirely in the wild. Collection of nuts from some other species in the weld (e.g. hazel) still takes place but this is usually as an addition to the normal diet.

Nut species are cultivated in temperate climates (e.g. hazel, filbert, sweet chestnut, almond, walnut species, pistachio, pecan) and in warmer climates (e.g. peanut, coconut).

A large number of the nut species are trees, but peanut is an annual growing to a height of 15-60cm (24 in).

Nut kernels are consumed raw, roasted, or salted, or in a great variety of products, e.g. nut butters, confectionery, curries, soups, stews, snack foods, sweetmeats, flour, bread, porridge, poultry stuffing, fritters, animal feed, cake, ice-cream, sauces, puddings, and meat and fish dishes. Immature green kernels of some species (walnut, almond) may be eaten as such or pickled.

Some nut products have achieved a considerable reputation, e.g. “groundnut (peanut) chop or stew” in West Africa, marrons glace (sweet chestnut) in France, and pesto sauce (pine).

As with all food analyses of plant products, the results will vary according to the environment, the variety (cultivar), the method of analysis, and some other factors.

By and large, the major nutrients in nut kernels are protein and fat (oil). The exception is chestnut, where starch in the dried kernel could be as much as 60%, and the amounts of protein and fat are low. Protein quantities vary according to species, with as much as 30% in peanuts, but the average seems to be about 15%. High-protein peanut flour has been used to supplement milk beverages in India and to raise protein levels in bread and biscuits.

With the exception of coconut, which contains saturated fat, nut species contain unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). The amounts are high, ranging from about 50% (e.g. peanut, pistachio) to about 70% (e.g. Brazil nut, pecan, pine, macadamia, walnut).

Nuts are good sources of minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Naturally, a food analysis of salted nuts will give a high reading for sodium. Vitamins present are B1, B2, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, and E. Vitamin C, not normally present in nuts, is found in green (immature) walnuts (1,300 – 3,000 mg per 100 g).
In reasonably recent times, interest has been shown in other substances present in nuts – flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) in almonds; resveratrol (a phytoalexin) in peanuts; sterols in pecans.

Nuts are a good source of dietary fiber (6-12 g per 100 g) and can be important commercial oilseeds (peanut, almond, coconut). The nutritional value of hazel and filbert is essentially the same, as is the nutritional value of the various walnut species.

Nuts have been used in medicine; e.g. tea made from peanuts has been used in Mexico and Peru to stimulate milk production in nursing mothers, and in Brazil as a nerve tonic; in Vietnam almonds are employed to cure dysentery.

However, as a health food, nuts provide a range of important nutrients such as protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, and dietary fiber. High intakes of saturated fat have been associated with heart disease and certain cancers; therefore, nut unsaturated fat is to be considered “healthy”. The role of antioxidants in dealing with free radicals and heart disease has already been described. Nuts include antioxidants such as vitamin E, flavonoids, and certain trace elements such as selenium; Brazil nut is a rich source of this element. In animal and human experiments, plant sterols (which reportedly occur in some nut species) have been shown to reduce total cholesterol and its low-density lipoprotein fraction. Resveratrol, found in peanut skins and kernels, is also found in grape skins and red wine. The “French paradox” postulates that those who consume red wine regularly; even with a high fat diet, have less incidence of coronary heart disease than inhabitants of England and Wales. Resveratrol, a phytoalexin, could contribute to this situation, but other substances, e.g. flavonoids, might be responsible.

It has previously been pointed out that unsaturated fat and antioxidants are good for general health. In addition, the presence of other substances, e.g. flavonoids, render nuts a good health food. Also, as in all other plant materials, nuts are cholesterol free. However, as has been stated, nuts are rich in fats, and about 30 g (1 oz) of kernels provide 200 kcal – a sizeable fraction of a normal day’s requirements. Therefore, there must be some control of the amount of nuts in a diet. There are those who claim that nuts constitute a “satiety” factor – they limit the amount of food consumed; however, there is sometimes a feeling that nuts are “moreish”.

A number of human epidemiological studies in the USA claim that frequent nut eaters have a lower risk of heart disease than non-consumers. Also, other studies claim that nuts in the diet reduce total blood cholesterol and the low-density lipoprotein fraction while not affecting the high-density lipoprotein fraction.

One of the difficulties associated with the consumption of nuts is that they may cause allergies – peanut is notorious in this respect. In extreme cases peanuts can bring about anaphylaxis, which can be fatal or near fatal. Those who are aware that they are allergic to peanuts obviously must avoid them, but it can be difficult because a wide range of products do contain peanuts or peanut oil, e.g. biscuits, cakes, ice-cream desserts, cereal bars, curries, and may others. Peanut oil is used in cosmetics. Discussion has taken place about the relative safety of unrefined and refined peanut oil. It is the peanut protein that is responsible for the allergy and therefore ea refined oil might well be safe, but those who are allergic should consider the wisdom of ingesting the oil. Considerable efforts are now made in food outlets and by manufacturers to warn of the danger of nuts.

Under certain conditions, peanuts may become infected with the moulds (fungi) Aspergillus flavus and A. parasticicus. These moulds can produce chemicals (mycotoxins) known as “aflatoxins”, which are carcinogenic. The situation is being carefully monitored in a number of countries (e.g. UK, USA, and others) because infected nuts must not enter the food chain.

Achieving a balanced diet


The old saying “You are what you eat” is only partly true. It takes a great deal more than just food to create a holistically healthy person, but food does form a good foundation on which to build.

We here so much about the “balanced diet”, but even though there is plenty of literature available, it’s not always easy to translate this into the contents of the shopping cart. In order to get and stay healthy, we need to eat foods from all the food groups: Carbohydrates (including fiber), protein, and fats. We also need vitamins, minerals and trace elements, and water.

Carbohydrates and what they do

Carbohydrates come mainly from plant foods. They are the fuel that provides energy and “staying power” for your body. These nourishing foods also contain fiber, minerals, vitamins, and protein. During digestion, carbs are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose, which is the primary fuel for the brain. What we now know is that not all carbs were created equal. Different carb foods behave differently in our bodies. Carbs that break down quickly have what are called high GI (glycemic index) values; those that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream have lower GI values. For most of us most of the time, low GI foods have advantage over high GI foods, especially for people with diabetes, or heart disease.

Until the last few years, carbohydrates were seen as “fattening”. Foods rich in carbs include:

• Grains and grain foods, including rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, brad, pasta, noodles, flour, and breakfast cereals.
• All fruits from temperate climates: Apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, and oranges. And tropical melons, bananas, pineapples, and berries of all kinds.
• Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potato, sweet corn, yams, and taro.
• Legumes including beans, chickpeas, lentils, and the favorite stand-by baked beans.
• Dairy products including milk, yoghurt, and ice cream cheese is not a source of carbohydrate, and foods such as butter and cream are primarily a source of saturated fat.

Fiber

Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate made up of material that forms the cell wall of plants.

• Insoluble fiber such as wheat bran can’t be digested by body enzymes and passes as roughage through the body. It works mostly in the bowel where it holds water, creating soft, bulky stools, that are easier to expel. It also helps to control blood sugar and cholesterol levels and is valuable in managing diabetes.
• Soluble fiber, present in oats, legumes, and fruits, is digested by bacteria, and produces valuable acids during the process.

Get an adequate supply of both types of fiber by eating whole grain cereals, washed, unpeeled fruit, salads, and scrubbed, raw or cooked, unpeeled vegetables.

Nutrition and Supplementation for Coronary Heart Disease

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain many antioxidants and other protective nutrients. Research showed that women who had a high intake of fruit and vegetables had 20% fewer heart attacks than those on low intakes.

Dietary fiber

Fiber is an indigestible part of vegetables and fruits and is usually removed when processing food. Fiber in the diet keeps the bowels moving, helps eliminate some of the toxins in our food and can also lower the cholesterol. Fiber is made up of complex carbohydrates which are not absorbed and stay in the bowel. Unrefined grain fiber appears to be one of the best sources of dietary fiber. When grains are refined, the outer layer, or husk, is removed. Most of the nutrients and fiber are in this outer husk. Women who had a high intake of fiber in their diet had less coronary artery disease, reducing cardiac events by 37%.

Whole grain

In addition to fiber, whole grains also contain many vitamins and other nutrients which are lost when the grain is processed and refined. Women regularly eating whole grain foods had 25% less coronary disease than those eating few or no whole grain foods.

Nut consumption

Nuts are the seeds for a new plant and provide all the necessary nutrients for the first few weeks of its life. They are a rich source of many beneficial fats, oils, proteins and vitamins. Women who ate more than 5 ounces of nuts per week had 45% fewer heart attacks than those who ate no nuts.

Alcohol

Alcohol raises the level of the good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Wine, especially red, also contains many beneficial antioxidants. Alcohol in moderation appears to have a substantial benefit in reducing heart disease – but probably not enough to make a non-drinker start drinking! However, it does mean that one does not need to stop having one or two pleasurable evening drinks – BUT no more! Women who were light to moderate drinkers had fewer deaths, mainly due to reduced coronary artery disease. Heavier drinkers had more breast cancer and deaths from cirrhosis of the liver. In a number of studies, two drinks per day reduced the risk of heart attacks by 30-50%. However, we stress that more than two drinks per day is bad for the heart, especially the heart muscle, but also the liver, pancreas and the brain.

Fish oils

Fish contain omega 3 oils which are very long chained polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from the plankton at the bottom of the food chain. These appear to have many beneficial actions with the body. With regard to the heart, fish oils appear to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, but most excitingly, they stabiles the heart rhythm and so have a major effect on sudden death (cardiac arrest is the cause of most deaths from heart attacks).

• Women who had a higher intake of fish in their diet had less coronary disease. Compared to women who did not eat fish, women who ate one fish meal per week reduced their risk of heart disease by 29%, 2-4 fish meals per week by 31% and those eating five or more fish meals per week had 44% fewer cardiac events.
• In the 44,000 men in the Health Professional Study, those eating some fish in their diet reduced coronary disease by 26%, but surprisingly, increasing the fish intake further made little difference.
• In the Chicago Western Electric study, 1,822 men were followed for 30 years. Those with the highest fish intake had a 44% reduction in deaths from heart attack. There is no drug which can reduce heat death by even a fraction of this number.
• In the Italian GISSI-P trial, 11,000 people were given either fish oil or dummy capsules after suffering a heart attack. The people taking fish oil had 20% fewer heart deaths and a 45% reduction in sudden cardiac death. Remember, Italians already eat a lot of fish, so more fish oils gave additional protection.
• Sudden death is reduced by 81% in men who eat fish regularly.

This is not a typing mistake: in the meticulously conducted Health Professional Study, taking fish oils reduced the incidence of sudden death by 81%. Because most heart attack fatalities are due to sudden death caused by ventricular fibrillation, such a simple preventive action as taking regular fish oils could save literally millions of lives worldwide each year.

Vitamin C

A report confirmed heart benefit from taking vitamin C supplements. The report found that those taking vitamin C supplements had 28% fewer cardiac events (heart attacks and death).

Magnesium

This mineral appears to be important in the function of muscles (enabling them to relax), and also in the control of heart rhythm. A number of studies have shown magnesium to be beneficial:

• In a study conducted by the USA Centers for Disease Control, 12,000 healthy people (25-74 years) were followed for 19 years. Those who had high magnesium levels in their blood had 31% fewer heart-related deaths than those with low blood magnesium levels.
• Magnesium supplementation reduced rhythm disturbances when given to children undergoing heart surgery.
• After a heart attack magnesium given intravenously reduced the mortality by 24% and heart failure by 25% in 2,300 patients in the LIMIT 2 study.
• Magnesium and sudden death. A review of published data on magnesium suggests that sudden death is common in magnesium deficient areas and that heart magnesium levels are low in people who die suddenly. Heart rhythm irregularities occur with low magnesium levels and intravenous magnesium can reduce arrhythmias after a heart attack. However, few large scale clinical trials have been done to see if there is benefit in suing oral magnesium supplementation.

Selenium

This mineral is low in the soil of a number of countries – New Zealand, Scandinavia, parts of the USA, Australia and China. In these areas, farmers routinely supplement their animals with selenium to avoid heart disease, muscle disease and cancer.

It appears that selenium is necessary for the full function of vitamin E, as well as having other important effects in the body. In areas where the levels are low there is a higher incidence of cancer and in a study in Arizona supplementation hugely reduced the risk of developing cancer. In China selenium has been used to treat heart failure in children (Keshan’s disease). Many people believe that selenium supplementation is a good idea in areas where selenium levels are low. Unfortunately, because it is a problem in only a few areas, there is not a lot of research being performed.

From these studies, it is obvious that if people had a nutritious diet plus supplements, we could make a huge reduction in heart disease. In modern medicine, there has no drugs which have anything like this preventive power. Heart disease could be dramatically reduced if people ate an ideal diet and took good nutritional supplements.

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Dietary Fiber

Fiber is classified as complex carbohydrates (more than two sugar units linked together). In 2002, the Institute of Medicine created the following definitions for fiber, separating it into three components: dietary fiber, functional fiber, and total fiber:

• Dietary fiber – Includes isolated, manufactured, or synthetic oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates that contain 3-10 sugar or glucose units) that our bodies cannot digest or absorb and that have beneficial health effects (for example, it can improve regularity, improve blood sugar and dietary cholesterol levels, and reduce disease risk).
• Total fiber – Is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber.

Nutrition Facts Labels on food packages currently list dietary fiber under total carbohydrates and further distinguish dietary fiber as soluble or insoluble fiber. According to the Institute of Medicine, the scientific support for using solubility to determine beneficial health effects is inconsistent, and recent studies suggest that other characteristics of fiber – including fermentability and viscosity – can be important to consider. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine recommends that the terms soluble and insoluble no longer be used.

Fiber is found in a variety of plant foods. Legumes (beans and peas), grains (especially whole grains), fruits, and vegetables all contribute fiber to the diet.

Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber. Resistant starch is defined as the sum of starch and products of starch degradation (breakdown of starch) that’s not absorbed in the small intestine of a healthy individual.

Resistant starch is found naturally in a variety of plant foods or it is added to processed foods. The four main dietary sources of resistant starch include

• Whole-grain foods (whole or partly milled grains and seeds)
• Raw potatoes, unripe bananas, some legumes, and in high-amylose starches such as those obtained from high-amylose corn
• Cooked and cooled foods, such as potatoes, bread, and cornflakes
• Processed foods made with resistant starches

The amount of resistant starch in foods varies widely; our estimated daily intake ranges from about 3 grams to about 8 grams per day. Studies suggest that consuming 6-12 grams of resistant starch at a meal can benefit glucose and insulin levels after the meal; consuming 20 grams per day has also been shown to bulk up feces and benefit digestive health.

Fiber Supplements

Fiber supplements are often sold as bran tablets or purified cellulose or in the form of laxatives (stool softeners). Whether in pill, powder, or drink form, fiber supplements can help some people consume adequate amounts of fiber. But taking fiber supplements (or eating fiber-fortified foods) makes overconsuming fiber easy, and too much can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Fiber supplements do not replace a diet rich in plant foods that naturally contain fiber along with other key nutrients and substances that benefit health.

Studies have shown that people who consume more dietary fiber also tend to weigh less. That’s no surprise because many high-fiber foods, especially those that contain a lot of water such as fruits, vegetables, and cooked grains, are very filling. Eating a lot of fiber-rich foods such as legumes; whole grains; and other fiber-rich grains, fruits, and vegetables can help you lower your total daily calorie intake.

Consuming a fiber-rich diet can also help you steady your blood sugar levels and keep you energized throughout the day. It can also help you manage, lower your risk of, or treat obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer as well as gastrointestinal conditions such as constipation.

Too much dietary fiber can reduce the absorption of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and energy. It can also cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea if consumed in excessive amounts. To minimize these symptoms, as people incorporate more fiber into their diet to meet current recommendations, they should also take in more water and other fluids to ease the passage of fiber throughout the body.

Soluble fiber is not digested by the human body; it absorbs and retains water and forms a gel- like substance.

Insoluble fiber is not digested by the human body; it does not absorb and retain water like soluble fiber but stays intact as it passes through the body.

Cellulose is a straight-chain polysaccharide (more than two units of glucose joined together); it is the main component of plant cell walls and is not digested in the human body.

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