Nuts, seeds and co. - why they are superfoods

Nuts are hardly to be missed in a health-conscious nutrition - their versatile positive characteristics can really boost our body: From vitamins and essential fatty acids over blood sugar stabilizing and satisfying effects they have many positive characteristics. Whether walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews or pistachios, they all have superfood properties.

 

The historical roots go far back in time

Nuts and seeds were already part of the diet in the Stone Age. Even then, they offered people a good source of energy that provided them with important nutrients. Due to their high calorie density and their resistance, they were also suitable for travelling and as food stock.

Even today's food cannot be imagined without these little fillers; natural, salted, roasted, sweetened, as puree, nut oil or as a basis for dairy product alternatives - they are highly versatile.

 

Botanical classification – which nuts are real nut fruits? Different types of nuts

Although many belong to the nut word family, they are not real nuts from a botanical point of view: The coconut, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds and pecans, for example, belong to the stone fruit family. Pumpkin seeds, linseeds, poppy seeds and sesame seeds belong botanically to the seeds.  Only walnuts, macadamia, sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts belong to the nut fruits - i.e. the "real" nuts1
            
From a biological point of view, the peanut is a legume, which distinguishes it more strongly from the other nuts and pseudonuts.2: Pulses contain lectins. These are substances that control parasites by inhibiting their enzymes and thus serve as natural pesticides or protect pulses from pest infestation. In our intestines, however, they also inhibit digestive enzymes and prevent micronutrients such as iron from binding, which prevents their absorption. This can lead to intestinal problems3
        
The question of how healthy peanuts are cannot be clearly answered at this point. It also has positive properties, such as a high protein content and can be tolerated from time to time for a completely intact gut. Ideally, the peanut - just like other pulses - is soaked overnight in water and lemon juice, then rinsed off well and then dried or roasted in an automatic dryer or gently in the oven. Through this process the lectins are rinsed out and the good nutrients can be optimally absorbed by our intestines4.

On a pure nutrient level, the nut fruits and the pseudonuts that belong to the stone fruits are very similar: they have a high fat content, vegetable proteins and few carbohydrates and a high energy density - they are therefore relatively high in calories. As the further sections are mainly discussed from a nutritional perspective, seeds, nut fruits and stone fruits are meant when the text refers to nuts.

Are nuts healthy – despite their high calorie value? Positive properties and the fat myth

Tatsächlich haben Nüsse durch ihren hohen Fettanteil auch einen beträchtlichen Kalorienwert: Von rund 550 Kcal bis zu knapp 700 Kcal reichen die Werte pro 100g. Dies ist tatsächlich eine erhebliche Menge an für uns verwertbare Energie, wenn man bedenkt, dass eine durchschnittliche Frau die sich regelmäßig bewegt ca. 2100 Kcal pro Tag benötigt.

For a man who has the same level of physical activity, it is about 2800 Kcal daily5. Bluntly thought one could say that with the daily consumption of nuts one exceeds the actual caloric daily requirement relatively easily and one increases thereby fast at body fat. However, when viewed in a differentiated manner, the matter looks somewhat more complex:     

«A calorie is a physical unit also known as "calorific value". It indicates the specific energy of a foodstuff that is released in the body during metabolism. However, biochemistry is not taken into account in this energy balance.»6.

This sentence from the nutritional design by Dr. Dominik Nischwitz sums up the complexity of our system. Whether a calorie is consumed as pure simple sugar or in the form of more complex fatty acids makes a decisive difference:
     
Let's take a glass of 300ml with cola, which is about 140Kcal8. Here the blood sugar level will rapidly rise to its maximum, which means that a lot of insulin has to be released6 so that the sugar can be transported to the carbohydrate reservoirs of the cells. In most cases, however, the limited stores are already full, which is why the excess sugar in the blood is converted into triglycerides by the liver and then stored in the fat cells - because these have an enormous capacity7.

In addition, these processes cause the blood sugar to drop very low in the end, which sends a signal to the brain that the body needs quick energy again and can lead to ravenous hunger attacks.

 

But how are the calories of the fats contained in the nuts metabolized?

A handful of walnuts (20g), like the cola described in the example above, contains around 140Kcal9. The walnut must first be broken down in our digestive tract with the help of enzymes and is therefore absorbed more slowly by our intestinal mucosa into the blood. The fatty acids it contains give us a feeling of satiety and can supply direct energy to our brain. For this reason, blood sugar remains stable and we feel constantly focused and full of energy6. You can read more about fats and their effects on our organism in this article here.

What other nutrients with health benefits do nuts provide?

Nuts contain omega-9, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts in particular contain considerable amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which belongs to the omega-3 fatty acids and has anti-inflammatory effects and supports brain functions10.        

Nuts also contain numerous micronutrients such as selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum and calcium. Vitamins E, K, A and D are also components of many types of nuts. The special advantage that nuts offer here is the improved absorption of these micronutrients: the fat-soluble vitamins are optimally absorbed by the fats they also contain. The vitamin A from a carrot, for example, has a very low bioavailability if it is consumed completely without fat.
     
Secondary plant compounds, which serve our organism as antioxidants, can also be found in the small fillers: phenolic acids and phytosterols are contained in walnuts and pecans, for example. These plant substances are attributed with anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial and antioxidative effects. They thus protect our cells from cancer, infectious diseases and ageing10.

 

Nuts and seeds can support a simple and simultaneously healthy diet

As already mentioned, the small, compact calorie sources are good and sustainable fillers. As long as they are natural, i.e. not salted, sugared or additionally mixed with oil or flavour enhancers, they have a maximum satiating effect. In combination with fibre-rich vegetables or berries, the effect is even more lasting. This prevents the body from internally transmitting signals that encourage you to eat unhealthy foods and fast sugars.
   
They are also the perfect snack when travelling, because no matter whether it is cold, heat or long journeys, the nuts remain durable and are easy to transport. They also take up very little space in your backpack or handbag. Especially when traveling or during a day full of appointments at different places, they can protect us from ravenous attacks and blood sugar fluctuations. In addition, they taste very tasty. As already mentioned, they promote concentration and brain performance, which makes them the perfect food for a focused day.

Nuts are fundamentally gluten-, soya- and milk-free, which excludes the main allergens in our food and makes them tolerable for many people. In addition, as a plant product they are vegan. Nevertheless it can happen that intolerances or allergies occur, which is why some people have to avoid certain nuts10. Often, however, these are only individual nut varieties, which is why others still come into question.

 

Caution: oxidation, additives, pesticides - quality and naturalness are important

As with all food, the quality of the food is important. Nuts and seeds should also come from organic production. Otherwise, it is quite possible that the plants from which they were created have been treated with chemical pesticides, which in the end are also deposited in the nuts, stone fruits and legumes as well as in the kernels and seeds. These can have a negative effect on our health.

If nuts are heated too much, they may oxidize. This means that the fatty acid structure changes in such a way that they can be harmful to us. Native nut oils in particular must not be heated at all. Nuts can be roasted gently, as they are protected even more by their firm structure. Here, however, it is important that they should be prepared at temperatures that are not too high.

In the case of nut oils, care should always be taken to ensure that they are native. This means that they are only cold-pressed and retain their natural flavour. This means that no fatty acid bonds are destroyed and the vitamins are retained11. Further information can be found here.
     
Furthermore, when purchasing nuts and nut products, care should be taken to ensure that they contain no added sugar, too much salt, cheaply processed fats or artificial additives such as flavour enhancers and preservatives.

Unprocessed nut products like nut puree, nut oils or nut puree are versatile

Unsweetened, natural plant milk, which may officially only be declared as a plant drink, has many advantages over cow's milk: it is very well tolerated, low in calories, vegan, more ecological and versatile. Cashew Drink, for example, tastes super delicious in coffee and is also easy to froth up. Coconut milk can be used to make delicious desserts or creamy curries. Almond milk goes well with oatmeal.
       
Vegetable, unsweetened yoghurts based on cashew, coconut or almond are optimal dairy product alternatives. Some are even available with lactic acid bacteria, which are good for our intestinal health.

Pure, 100 percent nutmeg can be used for salad dressings, as a spread, dip or for desserts. Virgin nut oils taste great in salad dressings, soups or to flavour dishes. For example pumpkin soup topped with pumpkin seed oil is an excellent combination.

 

Recipe suggestions with nuts and seeds

 

Roasted Nuts / Seeds 

10 portions

Per portion: 125 Kcal 
CH 1.1g / F 10.8g / P 4.4g
V/GF/LC

 cooking time: 5 Min

200g Nuts or seeds (e.g. almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds)

Spread evenly on a baking tray and roast in a preheated oven at 160⁰ C convection oven for 8-12 minutes until the nuts/kernels are golden brown

! Suitable as a snack or as a supplement / topping on vegetable yoghurt with berries

 

Chia pudding with collagen-berry sauce 

1 Portion for 1 person

Per portion: 230 Kcal *
CH 9g / F 10g / P 20g
V/GF/LC

 cooking time: 15 Minuten

2 TS Chia seeds

150ml unsweetened almond milk

Optional:

cinnamon, stevia, pure cocoa powder, real vanilla

Stir the chia seeds into the vegetable milk and the remaining ingredients and leave to swell for 10 minutes or overnight, pour into a glass (possibly a sealable preserving jar for on the way)

80g frozen berry mix
1 TS of water

 

Bring to the boil briefly in a small saucepan and stir well, puree briefly with a hand blender if necessary

15g Pasture collagen 
1 TS of water

 

 

Mix to a smooth mass and add to the berries in the pot, mix well (if necessary with a blender or whisk)

...pour over the chia pudding in a glass, enjoy warm or let it cool down first

 

*Roasted nuts or coconut / nut puree are suitable as topping

 

 

 

References

Markowski, Dipl.-Biol. Michael (2006): Die Hülle beweist: Die Walnuss ist wirklich eine Nuss

Camillo-Schneider-Preis an RUB-Biologen Lehrbuchwissen stimmt nicht mehr.

Tropenforum: Erdnuss. [https://tropenforum.de/tropenlexikon/erdnuss; 02.10.2019].
            Paleo360: Lektine. [https://www.paleo360.de/gesunde-ernaehrung/lektine-sind-schaedlich; 02.10.2019].

 Bels, Liora (2016): The Mix. Kempten: teNeues Media GmbH & Co. S. 21-22.

DGE: Energie. [https://www.dge.de/wissenschaft/referenzwerte/energie; 03.10.2019].

6 Nischwitz, Dr. Dominik (2016): Ernährungsdesign nach Dr. Dominik Nischwitz Die Basis für ihre Gesundheit. Tübingen: DNA Health & Aesthetics.

Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke und Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Humanbiologie 1: Grundlagen, Stoffwechsel und Abwehrsysteme. Zürich: Compendio Bildungsmedien.

Vitamine.com: Cola. [https://www.vitamine.com/lebensmittel/cola; 03.10.2019].

Vitamine.com: Walnüsse. [https://www.vitamine.com/lebensmittel/walnuss; 03.10.2019].

10 Martin, Hans Helmut (2013): Nüsse, Kerne und Ölsaaten – gesundheitlicher Wert. In: Schweizer Zeitschrift für Ernährungsmedizin. Neuhausen am Rheinfall: Rosenfluh Publikationen AG.

11 Kießling, Tina (2016): Nativ, raffiniert, kalt gepresst - was denn jetzt? [https://www.deutschlandfunknova.de/beitrag/oele-raffiniert-kalt-gepresst-nativ-was-heisst-das; 05.04.19]

 

 

Häufig gestellte Fragen

Which nuts are particularly healthy and nutritious?
Cashew nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and macadamias contain valuable micronutrients and good fats. It is important that they are consumed naturally. Nut oils and nut puree should be natural - i.e. cold-pressed - and of organic quality. The peanut, which actually belongs to the legumes, should be consumed rather sparingly, as it contains anti-nutrients that inhibit our digestive enzymes.
What is the maximum amount of nuts you should consume per day?
This depends on the calorie requirements and the diet. Body size, muscle mass, activity level, age and gender all play a decisive role. If sugar and carbohydrates are generally used sparingly, the average person can consume about 50g of nuts per day.
From how many years of age can children eat nuts?
Infants up to the age of three or four years should not eat nuts yet, as there is a risk of choking. At this age children cannot chew properly, which leads to them swallowing larger pieces of nuts and getting them stuck. Nut milk or oils, however, are not a problem for smaller children from a nutritional point of view.
How healthy are nuts really and why are they so healthy at all?
Nuts are very healthy, but like everything else they should be consumed in adequate quantities. They contain omega-9, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts, in particular, contain significant amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory and brain function enhancing properties. Nuts also contain numerous micronutrients such as selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum and calcium. Vitamins E, K, A and D are also contained in many types of nuts. Secondary plant compounds, which serve our organism as antioxidants, are also found in the small nutritive substances: phenolic acids and phytosterols are contained in walnuts and pecans, for example. They therefore protect our cells from cancer, infectious diseases and ageing.
Why are nuts, seeds and co. so expensive?
Because the production process requires a lot of energy and time. Some nuts must also be imported because they require special climatic conditions. Since nuts are usually purchased already shelled, the shell has to be removed by machine, which is also expensive.

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