Friday, July 5, 2019

Retrospective #139: Nuts – the Very Good, the Also Good, and the Bad

I love nuts. I mean real nuts – not peanuts (although I love them too). Peanuts are legumes, which I try to avoid, but nuts – true TREE nuts – are different. They’re all good tasting, and all are high in fat. Some, however, are much healthier than others, some are more of a toss-up, and some should be avoided. My basis for determining that is largely the type of fats they contain, and the rule here is the same as it is for all high-fat foods: saturated fat is good; monounsaturated fat is really good, and natural polyunsaturated fats are good or bad depending on their Omega 3 and Omega 6 content.  Unfortunately, many nuts contain too many Omega 6 fatty acids.
Next question: When would you eat nuts? The conventional thinking goes: 1) As a regular between-meal snack 2) If you should “feel” hungry on occasion 3) At a social gathering where nuts are one of the few offerings that are an “allowed” food, Or 4) perhaps as a salad ingredient at a sit-down dinner with guests? Let’s take a closer look.
For me, the answers are, respectively: 1) Never as a between meal snack. They are simply not needed; 2) If I “feel” hungry (before or after supper, the only times I get the urge), I “deny” the feeling. I either tough it out, and/or drink something non-caloric; 3) at a social gathering. If nuts are offered, I will usually succumb. I will regret it later, but I am weak when I SEE – that is, when I am VISUALLY seduced; 4) as an ingredient in a salad. I like this option.
Another issue is raw or roasted, unsalted or salted, and/or otherwise coated. The answer, again for me, is roasted, and unsalted, not coated (as in “honey roasted”!). I also like salted nuts, but check out the ingredients list. To make the salt stick, manufacturers add other stuff I don’t want to eat. To summarize: for me, nuts then are only a “party option” (mea culpa) or a supplementary ingredient in a salad. Snacking and emotional eating are verboten!
Remember, the issue with nuts is which contain the fewest polyunsaturated Omega 6 fatty acids. Here is my list:
·         Low Omega-6 nuts: macadamia nuts and coconut (the fruit)
·         Moderate Omega-6 nuts: hazelnuts (filberts) and avocado (the fruit), almonds and pecans
·         High Omega-6 nuts: walnuts, pine nuts, butternuts, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds.
Note that cashews and pistachios are not on this list because, while moderate in Omega 6s, they are too high in carbohydrates. Other dietary choices which offer low, moderate and high Omega-6 options as food choices are:
·         Low Omega-6 nut (and fruit) oils: coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, and palm oil
·         Moderate Omega-6 oils: olive oil
·         High Omega-6 nut oil: walnut oil
Nut oils, however, come with certain risks to health: the higher the Omega-6 content, the greater the danger of damage from high heat and chemicals in processing and manufacturing and the more likely they are to become rancid on the shelf. After opening, high Omega-6 nut oils should be refrigerated; they are fragile.
If you’re influenced by the Paleo ideology, as I am, you might find it appealing to think of tree nuts in the same way we should think of fruit: as a local, seasonal treat. In today’s world, of course, that is no longer the case. Fruits, hybridized to make them larger and sweeter, are often produced half-a-world away and are available year-round.
Nuts are too, but in our culture, they tend to be consumed mostly during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas when they are displayed at the front of the supermarket in large boxes and barrels. These displays suggest to me the way we should think of both nuts and fruit: as something special to be consumed as a treat.
I don’t mean to imply this in the literal sense. That would be orthorexic, and far be it for me to think that way (LOL). I mean it in a way that allows us to enjoy something special on special occasions: something to look forward to, like asparagus in the spring, or a dinner salad with guests of frisée, lardons, and Crimini mushrooms, all tossed in a homemade vinaigrette dressing and topped with chopped hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino Romano. Bon appétit!

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