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They might look and feel tiny, but nuts and seeds are nutritionally mighty - hence they are referred to as superfoods. This is the reason why most doctors and nutritionists, as well as your parents and grandparents, always insist that you should include enough nuts and seeds in your diet. Both these groups of food are easy to store, carry around and snack on - and many are also cheaply available during certain seasons, especially during the winter months - so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t include them in your diet.

  1. What are Nuts?
  2. What are Seeds?
  3. Nutritional Value of Nuts and Seeds
  4. Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds
  5. Side effects of nuts and seeds
  6. How to include nuts and seeds in your diet

What are Nuts?

Nuts are essentially fruits with an inedible hard shell enclosing an edible seed. Most nuts are the seeds of trees, except peanuts, which are the seeds of a legume but share the characteristics of nuts. Nuts like chestnuts, hazelnuts and acorns are the best examples of botanical nuts, while those like walnuts and cashews actually grow inside leathery fruits.

What are Seeds?

While you might mistakenly refer to nuts as seeds, culinary seeds actually come from vegetables (like pumpkin seeds), flowers (like sunflower, poppy and chia) and crops (like flax and hemp). Most seeds have nutrient profiles similar to those of nuts, which is why they are usually put in the same nutritional category and often packed together as part of diet foods.

Nutritional Value of Nuts and Seeds

Most nuts have similar macro nutritional contents (protein, carbohydrate, fat) but precise profiles might vary where micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are concerned. The following are the common nutritional properties of nuts:

  • Most nuts have a high monounsaturated fat content, while walnuts are especially high in polyunsaturated fat
  • All nuts have low saturated fat content 
  • High plant-based protein content, and some nuts are exceptionally high in arginine, a type of amino acid in proteins
  • All nuts are a good source of dietary fibre
  • Rich in phytochemicals like carotenoids, polyphenols, flavonoids, phenolic acids, catechins, etc.
  • Most nuts do not have cholesterol content
  • High in vitamins E, B6, niacin and folate
  • High in minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, selenium, phosphorus and potassium

Like nuts, seeds have similar and immensely beneficial nutritional values and are rich in both macro- and micronutrients. The following are the common nutritional properties of seeds:

  • All seeds are great sources of dietary fibre
  • High in plant-based protein content
  • Contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and no cholesterol content
  • Most oily seeds are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants like carotenoids, polyphenols, flavonoids, etc
  • High in vitamins B1, B2, B3 and E
  • High in minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium

Health Benefits of Nuts and Seeds

While reaping benefits from nuts and seeds might partially depend on the particular types and the amount you are consuming, there are a few benefits that you are sure to gain by their long-term consumption.

  1. Seeds and nuts for weight loss
  2. Nuts and seeds for heart health
  3. Seeds and nuts for diabetics
  4. Seeds and nuts to lower cholesterol
  5. Seeds and nuts to improve blood circulation

Seeds and nuts for weight loss

Nuts and seeds have a high fat content, and eating them can make you feel fuller for much longer and provide energy as well. Despite this, nuts and seeds are not associated with weight gain. In fact, studies have shown that consumption of these superfoods can aid weight loss, especially in the abdominal region. This is mostly owing to the fact that nuts and seeds lower fat absorption, reduce food intake by satiating cravings and provide enough energy to engage in routine activities without making you feel lethargic. This weight regulatory aspect is also promoted by the high fibre content in nuts and seeds.

Nuts and seeds for heart health

Due to the high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as the considerable amounts of proteins, phytochemicals, vitamins and fibre, nuts and seeds are considered to be heart healthy. Nuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids (a type of unsaturated fatty acid) that can reduce the risk of developing arrhythmia (erratic or irregular heartbeats that can lead to heart attack), which in turn can improve cardiovascular health.

Seeds and nuts for diabetics

There is a reason why nuts and seeds are recommended to patients who have diabetes or have been diagnosed prediabetic. These superfoods help the body maintain appropriate blood glucose levels. Nuts and seeds particularly help raise the levels of the glucagon-like peptide 1 hormone, which regulates the glucose levels and can help lower the high insulin levels.

Seeds and nuts to lower cholesterol

Nuts and seeds might be high in fat, but they have higher monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content - which are essentially healthy fats that your body needs. These fatty acids actually help lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol levels in the body. A cholesterol or lipid profile with low LDL is a sign of good health, especially where the heart is concerned.

(Read more: What is high cholesterol)

Seeds and nuts to improve blood circulation

Nuts and seeds are great sources of plant-based proteins, which are healthier than certain animal proteins. They are especially high in arginine, a type of amino acid found in proteins. Arginine helps relax constricted blood vessels and therefore makes blood circulation much easier and routine. That apart, the omega-3 fatty acids found in most nuts and seeds can also reduce the risk of blood clotting and related coagulation issues.

Side effects of nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are definitely healthy, and adding them to your diet can do you a lot of good. But too much of a good thing can be bad, and these superfoods are not an exception to this rule. Simply because they are healthy does not mean that you should overeat nuts and seeds, or snack on them all day. Here are some of the things that can happen if you consume too much of these superfoods:

  • Nuts and seeds have a high calorie content, and overeating them (especially in conjunction with full meals and unhealthy foods) can lead to obesity instead of weight loss 
  • Store-bought packaged nuts and seeds often have added sugar, and some varieties that are chocolate-coated or in the form of power snacks might seem alluring. But these are not healthy because they have preservatives and can raise your blood sugar levels drastically
  • Eating a small amount of salted nuts once in a while is fine, but if you overindulge or eat just salted nuts every day then it can lead to sodium imbalance and can cause high blood pressure
  • Nuts and seeds have high fibre content, so if you eat too much of them it can activate the tannins and raise the phytate levels - which in turn can lead to digestion issues, and cause bloating, gas and diarrhea (in extreme cases)
  • Brazil nuts are delicious, but are high in selenium. Eat more than four brazil nuts in a day, or eat too much of it regularly, and it can lead to hair loss, chipped nails, etc. Other nuts which are not high in selenium are safer in this regard

How to include nuts and seeds in your diet

Nuts and seeds are essentially good for your health, even though overeating them can be harmful. If you want to include them in your diet to reap the maximum benefits, keep the following tips in mind:

  • All nuts and seeds are healthy, but their micronutrient levels can vary. So, it’s best to include a variety in your diet instead of sticking to just one type.
  • Instead of indulging in unhealthy snacks like cookies, cakes or chips, try nuts and seeds as snacks to satiate cravings. Remember not to overeat these or add them on top of heavy meals.
  • Nuts and seeds are a great source of plant-based proteins, so use them to make your vegetarian or vegan meals more wholesome and nutritious. Sprinkling a handful on top of salads, curries or your breakfast bowl of oats or muesli is a good idea. More than 30g of nuts and seeds in a day can be a good substitute for meat, fish and poultry as protein sources.
  • The skin of nuts is as beneficial as the rest of it, so soaking and deshelling almonds or any other nuts won’t help. Have them raw, or dry roast them if you want to add a smoky flavour and increase the crunchiness.
  • According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, one serving of nuts (30g) per day is enough for adults. You can include 30 almonds, 15 cashews, 30 pistachios, 10 whole walnuts (or 20 halves) and a small handful of peanuts should suffice. You can also mix all the nuts and seeds, and weigh about 30g to add daily.

 

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