A Nutty Discussion: The Good & Not So Good on Nuts!

As many of us become more conscious of foods that provide superior nourishment, the phrase “nutrient dense” (which, as I understand it, was first coined by Sally Fallon Morrell of the Weston A. Price Foundation) has taken center stage. Yet recently I’ve seen an enormous amount of blog posts, recipes, and articles espouse the utter goodness of nuts! Nut milk, nut smoothies, nut cookies, nut bread—it’s nuts, nuts, nuts!

Even though I’d filed this great information away, after subconsciously acknowledging its truth, I nevertheless remembered encountering a very serious health issue after eating too many of my wonderful crispy nuts (more about crispy nuts below).

After that incident, an important question rose to the conscious level of my mind: What is NOT so good about nuts? This very question prompted me to tell you, my dear readers, the story of my sad experience with crispy nuts and also outline the good and not so good information about our out-of-control affair with this particular food.

 Many of you may not agree with my findings. If not, you’ll at least come away from this post with some warning of how important it is to properly prepare this lovely, healthy food and develop a healthy respect for its possible dangers!

 A little of my sad nut experience: In an insane effort to lose a fast fifteen pounds for a special occasion, and also fast-track my metabolism, I exclusively used coconut oil in my diet and reduced all other types of fat.

On one particular day during this time, I made crispy nuts with walnuts and almonds (see recipe below). As I was getting them ready to package, I began munching. I must’ve eaten nearly three-quarters of a pound (yikes) of this most wondrous food. And, sadly, I didn’t chew them sufficiently enough to digest them properly! (Sigh)

By early the next morning, I was experiencing severe pain under the right side of my rib cage. I just happened to be seeing my chiropractor that same day. When he tested that area, he told me I was having a gallbladder attack! I’ve never had a gallbladder attack, and for the next seven days I was in total agony. The pain was so severe that I was, for the most part, in a fetal position.

You can read how I managed to cope with and then heal from this devastating experience in my recent blog post “Gallbladder Attack!” When it was over a week later, I sat down and traced my food intake for the previous two months. After doing a good deal of research and detailing my experience in my gallbladder blog post, I realized my mistake. Excluding all fats except for coconut oil and eating way too many nuts had everything to do with my first (and hopefully only) gallbladder attack!

 Before I tell you the good and not so good about nuts, let me make this very important statement:

In order to digest food properly and avoid many gastrointestinal problems, including constipation, it’s essential for the liver to produce bile. Bile is the detergent-like substance that we need to digest fat and break down gallstones into smaller particles. (Yes, we all have gallstones, but most of us are never bothered by them.) Once our gallstones are mostly broken down, the pancreas delivers lipids (an enzyme) that further breaks down the stones and fat for easy elimination (as bile also lubricates the colon). However, it takes cholesterol, which is found in animal fats like eggs, butter, lard, tallow, and other cholesterol-based foods, to produce bile.

It’s therefore important to remember that coconut oil, healthy as it is, doesn’t contain cholesterol! Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when I went on my coconut oil spree. I was essentially not making bile in the necessary amounts to digest that pile of nuts I’d eaten the day before. (It wasn’t funny at the time, although reading it just now makes me laugh at myself! And I did learn some very important lessons.) So now let’s have a commonsense, nutty discussion about nuts! (Smile)

But one more thing before we begin: it’s also important to remember that most problems we have with any whole, healthy food stems from poor digestion. All too often, we blame the food when what really needs fixing is our own health.

What’s Good About Nuts

It would take a ton of Sundays to outline the individual nutritional components of every type of nut available on the market today. However, I did find a website that sums up the information in a nice, neat package. You’ll find a list of the most popular nuts as well as what the site claims are top eight health benefits of eating nuts.

In “8 Health Benefits of Nuts” (AuthorityNutrition.com), we learn of the highly nutritious value contained in a single oz. (28 grams) of mixed nuts:

  • Calories: 173
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Fat: 16 grams, including 9 grams of monounsaturated fat
  • Carbs: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Vitamin E: 12% recommended dietary intake (RDI)
  • Magnesium: 16% RDI
  • Phosphorus: 13% RDI
  • Copper: 23% RDI
  • Manganese: 26% RDI
  • Selenium: 56% RDI

The article goes on to state: “Some nuts have higher amounts of certain nutrients than others. For instance, just one Brazil nut provides more than 100% of the RDI for selenium (2).

“The carb content of nuts is highly variable. Hazelnuts, macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts have less than 2 grams of digestible carbs per serving, while cashews have almost 8 digestible carbs per serving.

“That being said, nuts are generally an excellent food to eat on a low-carb diet.”

 “Bottom Line: Nuts are high in fat, low in carbs and a great source of several nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium and selenium.”

 What’s Not So Good About Nuts

 For starters, whenever I work with anyone on diet issues, I advise them to be cautious regarding the consumption of too many nuts and seeds due to their high omega-6 and phytic acid content. So let’s touch on each of these substances.

Personal note: Be cautious with all those thick nut-butter sandwiches you prepare for yourself or your children. Unless you balance your diet with high omega-3 foods, you might be loading your child or yourself up with way too much omega-6, even though it’s coming from an otherwise acceptable source. Also keep in mind that store-bought nut butters aren’t, to my knowledge, phytic acid free! See recipes for homemade nut and seed recipe below.

From DrAxe.com, here’s a list of the top fifteen foods high in omega-3 (percentages based on 4,000 mg per day of total omega-3s):

  1. Mackerel: 6,982 milligrams in 1 cup cooked (174 precent DV)
  2. Salmon Fish Oil: 4,767 milligrams in 1 tablespoon (119 percent DV)
  3. Cod Liver Oil: 2.664 milligrams in 1 tablespoon (66 percent DV)
  4. Walnuts: 2,664 milligrams in ¼ cup (66 percent DV)
  5. Chia Seeds: 2,457 milligrams in 1 tablespoon (61 percent DV)
  6. Herring: 1,885 milligrams in 3 ounces (47 percent DV)
  7. Salmon (wild-caught): 1,716 milligrams in 3 ounces (42 percent DV)
  8. Flax Seeds (ground): 1,597 milligrams in 1 tablespoon (39 percent DV)
  9. Tuna: 1,414 milligrams in 3 ounces (35 percent DV)
  10. White Fish: 1,363 milligrams in 3 ounces (34 percent DV)
  11. Sardines: 1,363 milligrams in 1 can/3.75 ounces (34 percent DV)
  12. Hemp Seeds: 1,000 milligrams in 1 tablespoon (25 percent DV)
  13. Anchovies: 951 milligrams in 1 can/2 ounces (23 percent DV)
  14. Natto: 428 milligrams in ¼ cup (10 percent DV)
  15. Egg Yolks: 240 milligrams in ½ cup (6 percent DV)

From “The Skinny on Fats” (Weston A. Price Foundation), we read the following on omega-6: “Problems associated with an excess of polyunsaturates are exacerbated by the fact that most polyunsaturates in commercial vegetable oils are in the form of double unsaturated omega-6 linoleic acid, with very little of vital triple unsaturated omega-3 linolenic acid. Recent research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins. This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.”

From “Omega 6 and 3 in Nuts, Oils, Meat, and Fish: Tools to Get It Right” (PaleoZoneNutrition.com), we find charts outlining the very high omega-6 content of nuts. Below are a few of the more popular nuts and seeds, but you can find charts on many other foods high in omega-6 (which should be eaten in measured quantities). All of these nuts are high in omega-6. Yikes!

  • Walnuts: 38,092 mg of omega-6
  • Almonds: 12,053 mg of omega-6
  • Sunflower seeds: 37,389 mg of omega-6
  • Pecans: 20,630 mg of omega-6

I should also point out, however, that nuts are a concentrated, dense food. They’re not meant to be eaten in large quantities anyway. Most people will self-regulate and be satisfied with a handful of nuts now and then.

From “Yet Another Reason You Shouldn’t Go Nuts on Nuts” by Chris Kressor,  we learn the following about phytic acid.

“Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants, especially in the bran or hull of grains and in nuts and seeds. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. This is bad news because phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron and zinc) in food and prevents us from absorbing them.3 Studies suggest that we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent.4 It’s important to note that phytic acid does not leach minerals that are already stored in the body; it only inhibits the absorption of minerals from food in which phytic acid is present.

“Phytic acid interferes with enzymes we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.”

Remember, if you’re not properly preparing your nuts into crispy nuts, you’re getting high amounts of phytic acid. In my Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD and booklet (also available on demand at Vimeo), you can actually see the results with an exact visual.

Personal note: In my recipe section below, I outline how to eliminate phytic acid. Going forward, I’ll continue to advocate using only crispy nuts. Hopefully my readers will also commit to using only phytic acid free crispy nuts as well—and only in moderation to avoid too much omega-6. As for coconut oil, I’ll still eat and cook with it, but only in combination with other good cholesterol-containing fats and in no more than the usual amount of 3 tablespoons daily, as recommended by Dr. Bruce Fife, ND. Dr. Fife is the author of many great coconut books that encourage the consumption of all good animal fats. I apparently skipped that part of his recommendations! (Sigh)

Crispy Nuts and Other Recipes with Moderate Nut Content

Traditional Crispy Nuts
—From “Traditional Nut and Seed Preparation” (MommyPotamus.com)

“In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon explains how soaking nuts/seeds in a saltwater solution reduces the naturally occurring enzyme inhibitors and phytates that can cause digestive issues. This process of improving the digestibility of nuts and seeds is called making “crispy nuts,” a reference you will find often in my recipes. Soaking and dehydrating times can be found below. You can also ferment them in a whey solution and then dehydrate for use. To use this method, place nuts in a bowl and cover with water and ½ cup whey. Soak for 24 hours and dehydrate according to the time listed below, or until dry. Please note that nuts expand over time so make sure they are completely submerged with plenty of extra water at the top.

“Raw Pecans& Walnuts – Soak 4 cups pecan or walnuts in warm, filtered water with 2 teaspoons sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse and place in sink at 105–150°F for 12–24 hours, turning occasionally.

“Raw Almonds – Soak 4 cups almonds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Rinse, place in dehydrator, sprinkle with salt/honey/other flavorings if desired and dehydrate at 105–150°F for 12–24 hours, turning occasionally. (Note: Most almonds that are available have been pasteurized or otherwise treated. If they are no longer raw, soak them according the instructions for cashews.)

“Cashews – Because ‘raw’ cashews are not truly raw (heated to 350 degrees while in their shell to neutralize a toxic oil called cardol), it’s not necessary to dehydrate them at a low temperature to preserve enzymes. Soaking still makes them more digestible though! Soak 4 cups cashews in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for no more than 6 hours. (Because they are not raw they do not contain valuable enzymes that prevent spoilage, so 6 hours is the max.) Rinse, place on a stainless steel cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake at 200–250°F until dry, turning occasionally.

“Raw Peanuts – Soak 4 cups raw peanuts in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Drain and rinse. Dehydrate at 105–150°F for 12–24 hours, turning occasionally.

“Raw Pumpkin Seeds – Soak 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds in warm water with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 7 hours or longer (up to 24 hours). Drain and rinse. (Or don’t rinse. They’re yummy salty!) If desired, sprinkle with flavorings such as salt and honey or chili and lime before placing in dehydrator. Dehydrate at 105–150°F for 12–24 hours, turning occasionally.

“Raw Sunflower Seeds – Soak 4 cups sunflower seeds in warm filtered water with 2 teaspoons sea salt for 7 hours. Rinse and place in set at 105–150°F for 12–24 hours, turning occasionally.

“Note: Turning is not necessary in my Excaliubur dehydrator, but it is helpful with other models. Do what works for you.”

Recipes

Holiday Cinnamon Walnuts
—Adapted from DIYNatural.com

Ingredients
3 tablespoons organic Ceylon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons organic coconut sugar (or other organic granular sugar)
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¾ teaspoon ground organic ginger
6 egg whites from pastured eggs
3 cups organic walnut halves (about ¾ lb.)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 225°F.
  2. In a bowl, stir to combine the cinnamon, sugar, salt, and ginger.
  3. In another bowl, beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff.
  4. In small batches, toss the walnuts in the egg whites, then in the cinnamon mix.
  5. Place finished nuts on a baking sheet. Toast until crunchy, about 15–20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool completely. The nuts will keep for about 3 months, if they last that long!

Personal note: Consume no more than 8 pieces of Holiday Cinnamon Walnuts per serving to maintain moderate intake.

Almond Cookie Crisps
—Adapted from BarbaraBakes.com

Ingredients
2 large egg whites at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons castor sugar (fine granulated sugar)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sprouted flour
1 cup organic almond slices (previously soaked)
2½ tablespoons butter, melted

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, beat egg white, salt, vanilla extract, and sugar until foamy, whisking until sugar is completely dissolved. Next, whisk in flour until lumps dissolve. Gently fold in almond slices and butter.
  3. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter onto prepared baking sheet. Spread batter into a 2 to 3-inch circle (use a little offset spatula to spread them). Make sure the almond flakes don’t not overlap. Spoon the rest of the batter on the baking sheet with at least 1 inch apart (about 9 per tray).
  4. Bake 9–12 minutes, depending on size, until slightly golden brown. (Rotate baking sheet once halfway through.) Remove from baking sheet and cool completely on wire rack. Cookies will crisp up once completely cool.

Homemade Nut and Seed Butter
—Adapted from WholeNewMom.com

Ingredients
1½ lbs. nuts or seeds, soaked to remove phytic acid
½ teaspoon salt sea salt (optional)
1–2 tablespoons mild-tasting liquid oil like Macadamia oil (optional)
Sweetener (optional)

Instructions

  1. Put nuts or seeds into a high-powered blender or food processor.
  2. If your seeds and nuts have been soaked in salt water, you will not need to add salt to the mixture. Otherwise, add ½ tsp salt.
  3. Add sweetener if desired.
  4. If needed, add a little mild oil to the nuts to assist in blending.
  5. Process the nuts or seeds according the manufacturer’s instructions.

That’s it!

If you’re working with a food processor, simply put all of your ingredients into the bowl of your processor and start mixing. Keep it going for up to 12–15 minutes. You’ll need to stop occasionally to push the mixture down off the sides of the bowl, and you may need to add liquid oil, but you’ll supposedly end up with a butter at the end.

Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook

I had a little nut-tree,
Nothing would it bear.
I searched in all its branches,
But not a nut was there.

‘Oh, little tree,’ I begged,
‘Give me just a few.’
The little tree looked down at me
And whispered, ‘Nuts to you.’
Roald Dahl

AUTHOR’S NOTE
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Images from iStock/olvas (main image), ChesiireCat (boy with nuts), InaTs (almonds in bowl), bhofack2 (nut butter). 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semi-retired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Her website, Traditional Cook, offers the Wonder Mixer as well as the #1 rated grain mill, Wondermill. Maria’s “Cook Your Way to Wellness” DVD and booklet is available on demand at Vimeo.com and also sold as a full set on Selene River Press. Be sure to join the Selene River Press newsletter to follow Maria’s Tips from The Traditional Cook blog.

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