Nuts are an indispensable part of a health-conscious diet - their many positive properties can really boost our body: from vitamins and essential fatty acids to blood sugar-stabilizing and satiating effects, they have many positive properties. Whether walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews or pistachios, they all have superfood properties.
The historical roots lie far into the past
Nuts and seeds were already part of the diet in the Stone Age. They already offered people a good source of energy that provided them with important nutrients. Due to their high calorie density and their resistance, they are also suitable for on the go and as a stockpile.
It's hard to imagine today's diet without these little satiating ingredients; Natural, salted, roasted, sweetened, as puree, nut oil or as a basis for dairy product alternatives - they can be used in a variety of ways.
Botanical classification – which nuts are real nuts? Different types of nuts
Although many belong to the nut word family, they are not true nuts from a botanical perspective: coconuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds and pecans, for example, are stone fruits. From a botanical point of view, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, poppy seeds and sesame are all seeds. Only walnuts, macadamia, sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts are nut fruits - i.e. the “real” nuts 1 .
From a biological point of view, the peanut is a legume, which means it stands out more clearly from the other nuts and pseudonuts 2 : Legumes contain lectins. These are substances that fight parasites by inhibiting their enzymes and thus serve as natural plant protection products or protect legumes from pest infestation. However, in our intestines they also inhibit digestive enzymes and prevent micronutrients such as iron from binding, preventing their absorption. This can lead to intestinal problems 3 .
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 every now and then if the intestines are completely intact. Ideally, the peanut - just like other legumes - is soaked in water and lemon juice overnight, then rinsed well and then dried or roasted in a dehydrator or gently in the oven. Through this process, the lectins are flushed out and the good nutrients can be optimally absorbed by our intestines 4 .
On a pure nutrient level, the nuts and the pseudonuts, which belong to the stone fruits, are very similar: they have a high fat content, vegetable proteins and few carbohydrates and a high energy density - so they are relatively high in calories. Since the remaining sections are discussed primarily from a nutritional perspective, seeds, nuts and stone fruits are what are meant when nuts are mentioned in the text.
Are nuts healthy – despite their high calorie value? Positive traits and the fat myth
In fact, nuts also have a considerable calorie value due to their high fat content: the values per 100g range from around 550 Kcal to almost 700 Kcal. This is actually a significant amount of energy that we can use, considering that an average woman who exercises regularly needs around 2100 kcal per day.
For a man who has the same level of physical activity, it is around 2800 calories per day 5 . If you think bluntly, you could say that by consuming nuts every day it is relatively easy to exceed your actual daily calorie requirement and as a result you quickly gain body fat. However, when viewed in more detail, things look a little more complex:
«A calorie is a physical unit that is also called “calorific value”. It indicates the specific energy of a food that is released during metabolism in the body. However, biochemistry is not taken into account in this energy balance.” 6 .
This sentence from the nutritional design of 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 crucial difference:
Let's take a 300ml glass of cola, which is approximately 140Kcal 8 . Here the blood sugar level will rise rapidly to its maximum, which means that a lot of insulin has to be released 6 so that the sugar can be transported into the carbohydrate stores of the cells. However, the limited stores are usually 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 capacity 7 .
In addition, these processes ultimately cause blood sugar to drop very low, which signals to the brain that the body needs quick energy again and can lead to cravings.
But how are the calories from the fats contained in nuts metabolized?
A handful of walnuts (20g), like the cola described in the example above, contains around 140Kcal 9 . The walnut must first be broken down in our digestive tract using enzymes and is therefore more slowly absorbed into the blood by our intestinal mucosa. The fatty acids it contains make us feel full and can provide direct energy to our brain. Because of this, blood sugar remains stable and we feel constantly focused and energized 6 . More on the topic of fats and their impact on our organism can be found in Articles about fats to read.
What other nutrients with health benefits do nuts offer?
Nuts contain Omega-9, Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts in particular contain significant amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is one of the omega-3 fatty acids and has an anti-inflammatory effect and supports brain functions 10 .
Nuts also contain numerous micronutrients such as selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum and calcium. Vitamin E, K, A and D are also other components of many types of nuts. The special advantage that the nuts offer here is the improved absorption of these micronutrients: The fats they also contain mean that the fat-soluble vitamins are optimally absorbed. The vitamin A from a carrot, for example, has a very low bioavailability if it is consumed completely without fat.
Secondary plant substances, which serve our organism as antioxidants, can also be found in the small satieties: phenolic acids and phytosterols are contained in walnuts and pecans, for example. These plant substances are said to have anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. So they protect our cells from cancer, infectious diseases and aging 10 .
Nuts and seeds can support a simple and healthy diet
As already mentioned, the small, compact calorie carriers are good and sustainable fillers. As long as they are natural, i.e. not salted, sugared or added with oil or flavor enhancers, they have a maximum satiating effect. In combination with fiber-rich vegetables or berries, the effect lasts even better. This can prevent the body from passing on signals internally that encourage you to reach for unhealthy foods and quick sugar.
They are also the perfect snack for on the go, because no matter whether it is cold, hot or longer journeys, the nuts remain durable and are easy to transport. They also take up very little space in your backpack or handbag. They can protect us from cravings and blood sugar fluctuations, especially when traveling or during a day full of appointments in different places. In addition, they taste very delicious. As mentioned, they promote concentration and brain performance, making them the perfect food for a focused day.
Nuts are basically gluten, soy and dairy free, which excludes the main allergens in our foods and makes them tolerable for many people. They are also vegan as a plant product. Nevertheless, intolerances or allergies can also occur here, which is why some people have to avoid certain nuts 10 . However, it is often just a matter of individual types of nuts, which is why others are still possible.
Attention: Oxidation, additives, pesticides – quality and naturalness are important
As with all foods, the quality is important. Nuts and seeds should also definitely come from organic production. Otherwise, it is quite possible that the plants from which they were created have been treated with chemical pesticides, which end up being deposited in the nuts, stones and legumes as well as kernels and seeds. These can have a negative impact on our health.
If nuts are heated too much, they can oxidize. This means that the structure of fatty acids 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 solid structure. However, the rule here is that they should not be prepared at temperatures that are too high.
When it comes to nut oils, you should always ensure that they are native. This means that they are only cold pressed and retain their natural taste. This means that no fatty acid bonds are destroyed and the vitamins are retained 11 . Further information on this here .
Furthermore, when shopping, you should make sure that nuts and nut products do not contain any added sugar, too much salt, cheaply processed fats or artificial additives such as flavor enhancers and preservatives.
Unprocessed nut products such as nut butter, nut oils or nut butter can be used in a variety of ways
Unsweetened, natural plant milk, which can only be officially declared as a plant drink, has many advantages over cow's milk: it is very compatible, low in calories, vegan, more ecological and versatile. Cashew Drink, for example, tastes delicious in coffee and can also be frothed well. Coconut milk can be used to make delicious desserts or creamy curries. Almond milk goes well with oatmeal.
Plant-based, unsweetened yoghurts based on cashews, coconuts or almonds are ideal dairy product alternatives. Some of them even contain lactic acid bacteria, which are good for us Gut health are.
Pure, 100 percent nut butter can be used for salad dressings, as a spread, dip or for desserts.
Native nut oils taste great in salad dressings, soups or to season dishes. For example, pumpkin soup topped with pumpkin seed oil is an excellent combination.
Recipe suggestions with nuts/seeds
Per serving approx.: 125 kcal
Preparation time: 5 mins
200g nuts or seeds (e.g. almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds)
Spread evenly on a baking tray and roast in a preheated oven at 160⁰ C for 8-12 minutes until the nuts/seeds are golden brown
! Works well as a snack or as a supplement/topping on plant-based yogurt with berries
Per serving: 230 kcal *
Preparation time: 15 minutes
2 tbsp chia seeds
150ml almond milk, unsweetened
Cinnamon, Stevia, pure cocoa powder, real vanilla
Stir chia seeds into the plant milk and the remaining ingredients and let it soak for 10 minutes or overnight, pour into a glass (possibly a sealable preserving jar for on the go)
80g frozen berries
Bring to the boil briefly in a small saucepan and stir well, if necessary puree briefly with a hand blender
15g pasture collagen
Mix to a homogeneous mass and add to the berries in the pot, mix well (if necessary with a hand blender or whisk)
Pour over the chia pudding in the glass, enjoy warm or let it cool down first
*Roasted nuts or coconut/nut butter are suitable as a topping
1 Markowski, Dipl.-Biol. Michael (2006): The shell proves: the walnut is really a nut
Camillo Schneider Prize to RUB biologists Textbook knowledge is no longer correct.
2 Tropical Forum: Peanut. [https://tropenforum.de/tropenlexikon/erdnuss; October 2, 2019].
3 Paleo360: Lectins. [https://www.paleo360.de/gesunde-ernaehrung/lektine-sind-schaedlich; October 2, 2019].
4 Bels, Liora (2016): The Mix. Kempten: teNeues Media GmbH & Co. pp. 21-22.
5 DGE: Energy. [https://www.dge.de/forschung/referenzwerte/energie; October 3, 2019].
6 Nischwitz, Dr. Dominik (2016): Nutritional design according to Dr. Dominik Nischwitz The basis for your health. Tübingen: DNA Health & Aesthetics.
7 Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke and Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Human Biology 1: Basics, Metabolism and Defense Systems. Zurich: Compendio Educational Media.
8 Vitamine.com: Cola. [https://www.vitamin.com/lebensmittel/cola; October 3, 2019].
9 Vitamine.com: Walnuts. [https://www.vitamin.com/lebensmittel/walnuss; October 3, 2019].
10 Martin, Hans Helmut (2013): Nuts, kernels and oilseeds – health value. In: Swiss journal for nutritional medicine. Neuhausen am Rheinfall: Rosenfluh Publications AG.
11 Kießling, Tina (2016): Native, refined, cold pressed - what now? [https://www.deutschlandfunknova.de/teil/oele-raffiniert-kalt-PRESSED-nativ-was-heisst-das; 04/05/19]