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 Foods: Nuts 
Nuts are one of nature?s richest foods. They have good-quality protein and are even higher in fats (as oils) than the seeds. Because of that, they are more caloric than other vegetable foods (remember, each gram of fat has nine calories, over twice that of protein or carbohydrate), so they are not a food that should be eaten in abundance unless we are trying to gain weight. For vegetarians, nuts may be the most concentrated foods they eat, and their main source of oil.

Like the seeds, nuts are bundles of potential, the part of the plant that feeds the future generations. The calories, proteins, fatty acids, and many vitamins and minerals are what provide the energy for the early growth of the next nut tree. There are more than 300 types of nuts. Besides those discussed below, hickory nuts, macadamias, and pinenuts are also common. Most nuts are the fruit or seed that follows the blossoming of the tree. They are usually contained in a hard shell to protect them from birds, insects, and germs and also to keep them fresh, since the concentrated oils contained in nuts can easily rancidify and spoil in the air.

Because of the spoilage problem of these oil-rich nuts, picking or buying the fresh, raw, unshelled (with shells) nuts are the best. They will store longer than any other. Once the shells are removed, nuts should be kept in closed containers or plastic bags in the refrigerator or even the freezer. If left out in containers or bags, they should be eaten within a month. Nuts will store longer in a cool, dry place in closed containers than left in the air or in damp areas. Roasted, salted nuts are best avoided. The salt is not needed, and roasting affects the oils and decreases the B vitamin and mineral content. Be aware of places that feed you free salted nuts, such as bars or airplanes, to increase your thirst, and your drink tab!

Sadly, most nuts in American society are eaten after they are roasted in even more oil and salted, and often with other additives or sugars. Raw nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts, are probably the best. Peanuts, especially in peanut butter, are not easy to digest, and there is concern about potentially toxic molds containing aflatoxin, a potential carcinogen that grows on this leguminous nut/bean. Many people have some trouble digesting nuts because of the high fat content, which is even worse after roasting. The nut foods are not the easiest to digest; this is true especially in people with low stomach acid or gallbladder problems. Overweight individuals with gallstone or gallbladder disease often have difficulty digesting fatty foods in general. To process the nuts in our body, we usually need a good level of hydrochloric acid, fat-digesting enzymes ( lipases ), and bile secreted by our gallbladder and liver.

Besides raw, fresh nuts and the roasted varieties, nuts can be cooked into foods such as grains and vegetable dishes. This will often add the other needed essential amino acids to make more complete proteins. A nut-seed blended mix such as almonds-sunflower-sesame with a little added sea salt can be kept in a jar in the refrigerator and used as a protein seasoning. Nuts can be blended into flours as well as used in baking with other flours. These also need refrigeration to keep the other, lighter flours from rancidifying. The use of nut butters as snack foods is growing. Peanut butter is, of course, the most common, but now many other butters are commercially available, such as almond, cashew, and even pistachio and macadamia nut butters, as many people move away from peanut butter. Nut milks are also becoming popular as nourishing milk substitutes and as wholesome drinks, especially for children. If we do not already have a high-fat diet, nuts and even a little bit of the nut butters are a much better snack than sugary foods, particularly in regard to nutrition and the sustained level of energy that comes from their metabolism.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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