This nut-tastic article is by Lisa Yates Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Program Manager Nuts for Life.
March is the #nuts30days30ways challenge where Nuts for Life is encouraging everyone to eat a handful of nuts a day as a snack or in meals. Why? Because on average Australians eat just 6grams of nuts a day and the recommended amount is 30grams.
Why don’t we eat enough nuts? Could it be all the nut myths out there which makes nuts the forgotten cousins in the food family?
Here are our top 5 myths we think need dispelling:
Myth 1: Are activated nuts better than regular nuts?
No and here’s why. Proponents of soaking nuts overnight think this reduces phytates – a plant seed compound which binds to minerals, and some research in grains and legumes has shown, can prevent us from absorbing them. No research has been done to show what effect, if any, soaking has on nuts. Phytates have this reputation as an anti-nutrient but the reality is quite different. Phytates have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects[1,2], appear to have anti-cancerous properties, may affect carbohydrate metabolism and glucose control , improve bone mineral loss  and possibly even reduce kidney stones.
To demonise phytates based on their possible negative impact on mineral bioavailability alone means ignoring the evidence for their health benefits. Australians following balanced diets with a variety of foods will get enough minerals and do not need to ‘activate’ their nuts, grains and seeds to reduce phytates. Phytates may provide the very protection we need to avoid certain health conditions such as cancer.
Myth 2: Aren’t nuts fattening they’re high in fat?
Yes nuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats nut no they are not fattening. Research has shown that up to a 100g of nuts a day can be eaten and not cause weight gain. If eaten in a kilojoule controlled diet regular nut consumption may even cause weight loss . There are several ways nuts can help with weight management:
We don’t absorb all the fat in nuts. Nut eaters have more fat in their stools so we excrete fat and kilojoules from nuts. Nuts are high in fats, protein and fibre which can all affect appetite. Nuts can cause a GI lowering effect when added to meals so blood glucose levels are better control  and sustained energy released. So if you’re watching your waist nuts are definitely back on the menu. Say goodbye low fat diets.
Myth 3: Are raw nuts better than roasted nuts?
No they are both just as good. The only nutrients that are reduced in dry or oil roasted nuts are those that are not heat stable such as B group vitamins. Oil roasted nuts are often sold salted so the sodium content will be higher but the sodium is only on the outside of the nut. Raw nuts are naturally low in sodium less than 10mg per 100g.
The fat contents are not significantly different between raw and oil roasted nuts because nuts are so dense they are unable to absorb any more than 2-5% of fat unlike a potato chip which is porous.
Large population studies that link eating nuts with reduced risk of heart disease didn’t distinguish between raw and roasted nuts and the participants were likely to be eating a mixture of both. The studies found eating a 30g serve of nuts (natural or roasted) at least five times a week can reduce heart disease risk by 30-50%.
Myth 4: Is one nut better than the rest?
No each type of nut contains a range of different nutrients in different amounts. It’s like asking are apples healthier than paw paw or broccoli better than carrots. Not better just different. Research shows nut eaters have a better diet quality score than non nut eaters [6,7]. Just as we need a variety of fruits and vegetables in our day, we need to eat a variety of nuts as well. So remember 2 serves of fruit, 5 of veg and a handful of mixed nuts every day. Use nuts as a snack or as ingredients in meals to add interesting textures and tastes and get better nutrition.
Myth 5: Aren’t nuts expensive?
Not really. What is the cost of good health and fresh safe food? Did you know it can take 5-12years for nut trees to grow enough to bear a commercial crop of nuts? This means that nut growers have to invest in their trees for many years before they can make a profit. And what if the climate and weather don’t work in your favour? Droughts, floods, frosts, fungal growths can all impact on the quality of the crop that is grown, the price growers receive and will impact the following year’s harvest season too. Cheaper produce or produce “on sale” does not reflect the true costs of producing food nor the returns to nut growers. Nut growers need to earn a living too.
If we buy nuts in the supermarket fresh produce section they are generally priced as a so many dollars per kilo so they seem more expensive eg $15-40 a kilo. Whereas groceries in the other aisles are priced per pack eg a pack of biscuits may be $4 a pack.
What if all products were sold as a price per kilo?*
- Nuts in fresh produce are around $15-40/kg (depending on season and nut variety)
- Chocolate coated biscuits about $16-42/kg
- Muesli Bars about $10-30/kg (depending if private label, no nuts or no nuts)
- Potato crisps about $19-44/kg
- Savoury biscuits $8-30/kg
So nuts are similarly priced to other snacks foods but they provide bigger bang for buck when it comes to NUTrition. Just remember that value for money is not always value for health.
(*Prices as of 17th March 2016 from two online supermarket stores)
In a nutshell…
A variety of nuts have many health benefits whether soaked or not, roasted or not. A handful of nuts a day can help control high-cholesterol and blood glucose , and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes , as well as help to manage weight [4,10,11]. They are a better investment in your health than other snack foods and ingredients.
What about peanuts?
Peanuts are not true nuts but are in fact legumes in the same food family as chickpeas and lentils. They do have a similar nutrient profile as tree nuts because they are all forms of seeds. Research shows whole peanuts have similar health benefits as tree nuts.
 Schlemmer U et al Phytate in foods and significance for humans: Food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2009, 53, S330 –S375
 Graf E and Eton JW (1990). Antioxidant functions of phytic acid. Free Radical Biol Med, 8(1):61-69.
 Nuts for Life Nuts and Heart Health Report – a summary of the evidence of a systematic literature review 2015. Nuts for Life http://nutsforlife.com.au/resources/literature-reviews-summaries
 Nuts for Life The 2012 Nut Report – the role of nuts in weight management. http://nutsforlife.com.au/resources/literature-reviews-summaries
 O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Tree nut consumption is associated with better nutrient adequacy and diet quality in adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010. Nutrients. 2015 Jan 15;7(1):595-607.
 Brown RC et al. Nut consumption is associated with better nutrient intakes: results from the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Br J Nutr. 2016 Jan;115(1):105-12.
 Del Gobbo LC et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1347-56.
 Afshin A et al Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100(1):278-88.
 Flores-Mateo G et al Nut intake and adiposity: meta-analysis of clinical trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jun;97(6):1346-55.
 Arya SS et al Peanuts as functional food: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Jan;53(1):31-41.