There are a number of excellent reasons to incorporate a small amount of nuts into your everyday diet. They are delicious, filling, full of protein, and the perfect snack.
What’s more, a substantial body of nutritional research indicates that regular consumption of nuts is associated with a variety of health benefits. A 2015 Oxford University study concluded: “Men and women who eat at least 10 grams of nuts or peanuts per day have a lower risk of dying from several major causes of death than people who don’t consume nuts or peanuts.”
Most people have barely scratched the surface when it comes to trying the wide variety of nuts available: almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, cashews, and Macadamia nuts are all delicious. And a couple others—walnuts and Brazil nuts—deserve special mention for nutritional reasons. Walnuts are one of the few rich plant-based sources of Omega 3s. And Brazil nuts are one of very few foods that contain significant amounts of selenium, an essential trace mineral.
And of course there are also peanuts, which aren’t actually a nut at all but a legume. Happily, as it turns out, peanuts appear to have the very same health benefits as actual tree nuts. What’s more, peanuts are generally less than half the price of even the cheapest nut varieties. Just keep in mind that if you buy peanuts, organic is the way to go since conventionally-grown peanuts are often planted in rotation on the very same pesticide-drenched soil used to grow cotton.
If you live in a place with nearby nut orchards, there will likely be at least one stall dedicated to nuts at your local farmers’ market. But for most people the bulk bins at a natural food store will be the most affordable place to buy nuts. That’s largely because even if nuts are grown locally to you, there will usually be only one or two varieties available. Cashews, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts are commonly imported from the far corners of the planet.
Roasted nuts go rancid more quickly than do raw nuts, so they should always be stored in the refrigerator. In this respect, roasted nuts are like coffee—just like serious coffee drinkers strive to only drink coffee that’s been roasted in the past week or two, the flavors of roasted nuts rapidly diminish over time. With that in mind you may decide to avoid roasted nuts sold by your natural foods store as they are invariably weeks or months old by the time of purchase.
Fortunately it’s easy to buy raw nuts and roast them at home. Almonds are a great nut to start with. Using a wok and a tiny amount of oil, cook a cup-full of almonds over medium heat, stirring constantly. After five or ten minutes remove one almond and cut it in half. If the white interior has begun to tan they’re about ready. If you like, pour a tablespoon of tamari or maple syrup over the almonds and keep stirring for a couple more minutes as the liquid evaporates. Next just pour your almonds onto a plate and when they’ve cooled transfer them to a mason jar. Seal the lid and refrigerate.
Butters, Milks, Cheeses & Garnishes
There are a number of ways to add nuts to your diet besides eating them whole. One obvious way is to purchase nut butters. While peanut butter is by far the most popular such product, any nut can be ground into butter. Almond, cashew, and hazelnut butter are widely available. Many natural food stores also stock Macadamia nut butter and pistachio butter—both of which are outrageously expensive but sublime. A regular blender won’t be powerful to make nut butter, but a Blendtec or Vitamix can do the job, as will any higher end food processor. Even better is to use a specialized nut grinder or a Champion Juicer with the grinding blank inserted.
Nut butters are good for far more than sandwich spreads—they’re also an incredibly versatile cooking ingredient. If you’ve never had peanut sauce over noodles or brown rice you don’t know what you’re missing. And peanut sauce is only the beginning of your nut butter cooking possibilities. There are several all-vegan cookbooks solely devoted to nut recipes, including Robin Robertson’s The Nut Butter Cookbook, and Zel Allen’s The Nut Gourmet.
Nuts can be blended with water to produce creamy nut milks. You can purchase nut milks at the grocery store—almond and cashew are the most common varieties—but it’s quite simple to make nut milks yourself at home if you have a high powered blender. Nut milks will usually produce sediment at the bottom of the bottle, unless filtered with cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. That sediment is nutrient-rich though, so shaking before serving is a more healthful option that filtering.
Maybe the most exciting use for nuts is for vegan cheese. Most of the higher end commercial brands of vegan cheese are based on ground cultured nuts. Vegan cheeses are surprisingly easy to eat at home, and there’s an entire cookbook devoted to nut-based vegan cheese.
One of the best and easiest uses for nuts is to chop them for use as a garnish. Chopped almonds are an amazing salad topping, and add flavor, crunch, and satiety to a dish that might otherwise leave you hungry thirty minutes later. Chopped peanuts are likewise a marvelous addition to soups, noodles, and spring rolls.
Don’t Forget Seeds!
The nutritional profile of seeds is remarkably similar to nuts. Sunflower seeds are sold in bulk in any natural foods store, and are ridiculously cheap—even cheaper than peanuts. Pumpkin seeds have wonderful flavor and are a nutritional powerhouse. Eden makes a superb spicy organic dry roasted pumpkin seed product that’s packaged for freshness in sealed foil bags. As with chopped almonds, tamari roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are a magnificent salad garnish.
Hemp, chia, and flax seeds all stand out as significant sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp is a good source of omega 3s, while chia and flax are both loaded with this nutrient. In fact, it takes less than a tablespoon of ground flax or chia to meet your body’s omega 3 needs for an entire day. You can learn more about these seeds and how to add them to your diet by visiting our omega 3 page.
There are so many ways to bring nuts and seeds into your diet, and it would be a shame to miss out on all the flavors and health benefits these foods bring.