Healthy nuts to eat

Brazil nuts, peanuts and pistachios are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals. Discover how you can benefit from and include these healthy nuts to eat in your diet.

This is the second part of the “Healthy nuts to eat” article series. You can check out the previous article about health benefits of almonds, hazelnuts and cashews.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts

The Brazil nut is the edible seed from the Brazil nut tree (Bertholletia excelsa). It’s native to South America and is also called Pará nut. This nut actually comes from the same family as blueberries and cranberries and is technically a seed. The tree is quite large and can reach 160 ft (49 m) in height. The fruit is hard-walled, spherical and can grow up to 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter and reach 5 pounds (2.3 kg) in weight. One fruit can contain 8 to 24 nuts. The Brazil nut tree is one of the largest in the Amazon rain forests and can live for more than 500 years. This tree is so special that it is illegal in Brazil to cut it down. That’s why  it can be found in backyards or near streets and roads. If you ever find yourself under a Brazil nut tree be very careful since the fruit is very heavy and poses a significant threat to people and vehicles passing by.

Brazil nut growth circle

The biggest producers of Brazil nuts are Bolivia accounting for about 50%, Brazil 40% and Peru 10%. The entire annual nut production today is around 20.000 tons, while in the 1980’s it used to be twice that amount from Brazil alone. Deforestation is one of the major factors for this decline, since this tree needs large-bodied bees capable of pollinating its flowers. These kind of bees can only be found in undisturbed, unpolluted  forests. Brazil nuts are usually sold raw (shelled or without shell), roasted and/or salted. Brazil nuts can also be processed to brazil nut oil which is used as a culinary oil as well as in different industries.

Brazil nuts health benefits and nutrition facts

Brazil nuts are high in calories and contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in beneficial quantities.

Brazil nuts nutritional facts

  • Celiac disease and gluten intolerance
    These nuts are gluten free – they are a healthy choice for people with food allergies and coeliac disease.
  • Selenium
    Brazil nuts are probably the best nutritional source of selenium. Just one to two nuts a day provide the whole recommended daily intake. Selenium helps in prevention of cancers, liver cirrhosis and coronary artery diseases.
  • Constipation
    Fiber in Brazil nuts may help in regulating your digestive system.
  • Vitamin E
    Brazil nuts are a very good source of Vitamin-E (more than half of the recommended daily intake of vitamin E is found in 3.5 oz (100gr) of nuts). Vitamin-E is an antioxidant that protects skin and mucus cell walls against oxygen-free radicals.
  • Reducing cholesterol
    Most of the fat found in brazil nuts is unsaturated, mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, that can help in lowering LDL and elevating ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. This can help protecting against coronary artery disease and strokes.
  • Bone health and anemia
    Aside from high selenium content Brazil nuts contain high levels of other minerals as well, like manganese, iron, copper, potassium, etc. Copper in Brazil nuts helps in preventing bone weakness and anemia. It also helps with iron absorption and development of bone and connective tissue.

Health concerns

The main health concern is the same as with other nuts:

  • Brazil nuts are very allergenic. People with allergies to other nuts and fruit from the Anacardiaceae family like mango, cashews, pistachios, etc. should be extra cautious with Brazil nuts.
  • Do not give Brazil nuts to children under one year old due to allergy and chocking hazard
  • There are also strict regulations in Europe when it comes to importing  Brazil nuts with shells, as the shells can contain high levels of aflatoxins, which are a known carcinogenic and can contribute to liver cancer.
  • High content of selenium in Brazil nuts can lead to selenium poisoning if overly consumed.
  • They may also contain a small amount of radioactive material radium. Scientist believe that this happens because of the vast root system of the tree. Radium concentration is 1000 times higher than amounts found in any other food, but it’s believed not to be absorbed into the body.
  • Brazil nuts are best consumed in moderation.
Grated brazil nuts

Brazil nut sprinkle for salads, stews, etc.

How to store and eat Brazil nuts

Because of the high fat content Brazil nuts can easily turn rancid. It is better to buy and keep them in their shells, which protects them against air, sunlight, and humidity. You can keep them with their shell in a cool, dry place for several months. Brazil nuts without shell should also be kept in a cool and dark place like the refrigerator, but not as long as those in shells. You can eat them raw or roasted. If you like them roasted I suggest to roast them yourself. Simply preheat the oven to 160 to 170°F (70 to 78°C) and roast them for 15 to 20 minutes. According to Karen Collins M.S., R.D., C.D.N., roasted seeds and nuts are not significantly changed when it comes to their nutritional values, nor does the roasting process change their  fat composition, or reduce vitamin-E content. Roasted or not, either one is an excellent source of nutrients.

Peanuts

Peanuts

Although Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is considered a nut, it’s actually a part of the legume family (same as beans, peas, soybeans, and the like). It originates from South America, and was most probably domesticated in the area of today’s Bolivia and Paraguay, since wild strains of peanut can be found there today. The oldest specimen is around 7600 years old and was found in Peru. Spanish conquistadors and traders from Europe spread the plant all over the world.

Peanut ripens underground and requires warm weather and a lot of rain to grow. The biggest producer of peanut is China with 42% of the entire world production, followed by India and the USA, with 12% and 8% respectively. Peanut is mainly grown for its oil, for peanut butter (especially in the USA), for roasted or fried salted nuts or for use in candies and bakery products.

Peanut harvest

Harvesting of peanuts

Health benefits and nutrition facts of peanut

When it comes to health benefits of peanuts, they are equal to its more expensive nut cousins. Filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they truly are little packs of health at a reasonable price.
Nutrition label peanuts

  • Reducing of heart disease and diabetes risk
    Studies have shown that consuming an ounce of peanuts a day can decrease risk of heart disease by half and diabetes risk by a quarter.
  • Weight loss
    A weight loss study conducted at Penn State University concluded that the group eating a moderate-fat diet that included peanut oil, peanut butter and peanuts kept their triglycerides low during the weight maintenance period. Despite similar weight loss, in the group that was kept on a low-fat diet, triglycerides rebounded and ‘good’ HDL cholesterol decreased during the weight maintenance period.
  • Vitamin B complex
    One cup of raw peanuts makes up for 110% of recommended daily intake of niacin (vitamin B3), 88% of folate, 81% of vitamin E, 78% of thiamine (vitamin B1), 30% of vitamin B6, and 15% of riboflavin (vitamin B2). Research show that these vitamins help in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline and heart disease. They also play an essential role in many other processes in our body.

Health concerns

  • Peanut allergy is a type of hypersensitive response in some people. The symptoms may have severe manifestation and can be life threatening. Avoid peanuts if you are allergic to any other nuts.
  • Don’t give peanuts to children under one year old.
  • Peanuts are also susceptible to mold that can lead to high concentration of aflatoxin, which is a known carcinogenic. Roasting may reduce level of aflatoxin to a certain point.
Homemade peanutbutter

A homemade peanut butter recipe without added additives and hydrogenated oil

Storing and consuming peanuts

Peanuts are available in stores and markets everywhere, and through the year. They are also among the least expensive of nuts. To get the beneficial effects from this nut you don’t need to eat much of it – just an ounce a day is enough. You can also use peanut butter or oil. It is best to eat  them with shell and raw. Avoid peanuts fried in oil and salted since they contain enough fat themselves. You can buy them roasted or you can roast them yourself at 350°F (180°C) for 20-25 minutes if they are without shells, or 15-20 minutes for peanuts with shell (shells keep the heat closer to the nut that’s why you need to roast them less). Roasting also rises levels of antioxidants so you get another benefit aside from the better taste.
Peanuts with shell can be kept in a cool, dark place for months. If they are shelled they can be kept as long in an airtight container. You can eat them as a snack, use them in various dishes, make peanut butter sandwiches or make a dressings for salads. This tasty nut is very versatile and healthy when consumed in moderation.

Pistachios

Pistachios

Pistachio (Pistacia) is a member of the cashew family and originates from Central Asia and the Middle East. Even Pliny the Elder wrote about pistachio seeds being considered common food way back in 6750 BC. Modern pistachio was cultivated in Western Asia from where it spread to the Mediterranean and the rest of the world.

Pistachio is grown all over the world, with the biggest producer being Iran with 47% of the entire world production, followed by the US with 23%, and Turkey with 15%. These nuts can be eaten raw, roasted and salted in the  form of pistachio butter or oil or in confections, candies and ice creams.

Pistachio tree

Pistachios growing on a tree

 

Health benefits and nutrition facts of pistachios

Pistachios are rich  in  unsaturated fatty acids, protein, dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K and phytochemicals. There have been five published randomized clinical studies showing beneficial effects on participants health and the number of clinical studies researching the health benefits of pistachios is growing.

Nutrition facts - Pistachio

  • Fat content
    Total fat content per 1 oz (28  gr) of pistachios is 13 grams, which is one of the lowest compared to other nuts.
  • Cholesterol reduction
    Regular consumption of pistachios reduces bad LDL cholesterol.  The combination of  antioxidants, phytosterols and unsaturated fatty acids is good for heart disease prevention.
  • Weight loss.
    When we take into consideration the low fat and calorie content compared to other nuts, as well as the high protein content, pistachios are one of the best, if not the best nut for people who are trying to lose weight with a balanced diet.
  • Constipation
    High fiber content makes them an excellent choice for the regulation of your bowel movements.
  • Diabetes control
    Pistachio consumption can help control diabetes. People with diabetes have to deal with the process of glycation. That’s when sugars form inappropriate bonds with proteins and make them unusable for your metabolism. The antioxidants in pistachios help in reducing this process and controlling diabetes.
  • Prevention of anemia
    Copper content in pistachios is high and copper helps with the absorption of iron. This helps in the prevention of anemia.

Health concerns

  • Food allergy is among the main health concerns, as with all the other nuts.
  • Another health risk is the illegal process of bleaching pistachios to restore the white color of the shells. This process decreases the antioxidant properties of pistachios significantly.
  • Also, mold can form during storage and transport, which can lead to high aflatoxin content.
Pistachio icecream

Check out this healthy pistachio ice cream recipe

Storing and consuming pistachios

Pistachios are usually sold in shell, although one can also purchase shelled ones. They can be raw, salted, roasted, sweetened, etc. It is better to buy shelled, unprocessed ones. Raw unshelled nuts can remain unspoiled for months if kept in a cool dry place. Shelled ones, however, should be kept in an airtight container and in the refrigerator, or they will soon turn rancid. It’s better to eat them raw, unsalted and unsweetened, especially if you are trying to lose weight. They can be used in salads, and in various sweet pastries, like baklava. Pistachio oil can be used for cooking, or as a salad dressing. You can also salt and roast pistachios by yourself. Make a brine with salt and water, use as much salt as you can dissolve in the water. Briefly put pistachios in the brine, then spread them over a cooking sheet. Place them in the oven at 200°F (95°C) for 20 to 30 minutes. Check them frequently because you want them dried, not burnt.

This was the second part of a three part nut series. If you missed the first part check out all the facts and benefits of hazelnuts, cashews and almonds. There is still one article with more nuts to follow soon. Until then let us know in the comments which one of these three nuts you prefer?

Photo credit: Bertholletia excelsa compose by Lior Golgher, Peanut harvest, Pistachios, Eagle Ranch Pistachios