Diwali comes and Diwali goes. And with it, come boxes and boxes of nuts and dried fruit in the form of dressed up gifts. Thanks to all the binging we do during the festive season, though, we are on our guilt trips and the boxes of nuts and dried fruit are relegated to the deepest recesses of our kitchen, to be discovered months later when they are beyond consumption because we are convinced that they will do us more harm than good.
Cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts are all rich in calories and fat–correct. So they should be avoided at all cost–incorrect. That’s right, you don’t need to avoid nuts. In fact, you should try and include at least 25 grams of various nuts in your diet every day. A host of recent studies have shown that while nuts are rich in calories and fat, they also contain other nutrients that go a long way toward better health. Here’s a list of the wonder nutrients that nuts contain and their benefits.
Alpha-linolenic acid: This nutrient protects your heart from cardiovascular strain during times of acute stress. So every time you know you are going to have stressful times at work or home, snack on some walnuts as they are rich in alpha-linolenic acid.
Arginine: This amino acid found in most nuts helps in relaxing the blood vessels and hence reduce the risk of cardiovascular damage. Nuts pack in a good amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which boost overall heart health.
Folate: A type of B-vitamin the presence of rich quantities of folates make peanuts and almonds ‘brain food’ which is necessary for children and young adults as well as the elderly to improve neural health and cognitive ability.
Selenium: Ever imagined nuts being able to reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men? Yes, the selenium rich brazil nuts have been known to do just that!
Vitamin E: The real memory and IQ booster is Vitamin E, which is found aplenty in all nuts especially almonds and walnuts, making them an ideal addition to the diets of children and adults alike.
High Fiber: Studies have shown that dieters who include nuts in their regimes are more likely to maintain their weight than those who didn’t as the high fiber in nuts gives ‘high satiety’ and a greater satisfaction of eating good food than low calorie stuff such as oil free crackers.
Gamma tocopherol: A type of Vitamin E, gamma tocopherol is found mainly in pistachios and may be useful in providing protection against lung cancer.
Apart from this, nuts like walnuts help in lowering the LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Eating a handful of nuts five days a week has also been indicative of improving men’s reproductive health.
Does that mean that one can pop a handful of nuts with a beer and still hope to improve health? Certainly not. One must remember that while nuts do have a lot of health benefits, they also contain a significant amount of calories. So ideally, nuts should replace other energy dense foods in your diet or act as a supplement to your meal.
Adding nuts like peanuts to salads, stir fries or ‘bharwa’ (stuffed) vegetables , topping hot or cold cereals with nuts, making muesli at home with assorted nuts, homemade chikkis using organic jaggery, nuts in breads and low-fat muffins are some examples of healthy additions of nuts to a diet.
Dried fruit aren’t a bad deal, either. They are a good source of energy and calories and appeal to children more easily because of the natural sugars. It is for this very reason, however, that weight watchers and diabetics should be mindful of the amount consumed. Having said that, they do make for an excellent snack on the go–always keep a small zip pack of nut clusters and dried fruit in your handbag, and you will never go hungry in a traffic jam again.
Apricot , dates, figs and raisins are a good source of iron, fiber and trace minerals. Dried berries such as cranberries and blueberries contain antioxidants as well.
How to incorporate nuts and dried fruit in your diet:
Eat a few almonds or walnuts every morning or before your exercise for a source of protein.
Add toasted nuts–chopped or ground–to your breakfast oatmeal or in salads for crunch and texture.
Instead of sweetening desserts with refined sugars, try using dried fruit puree–dates and figs in cakes; berries in fruit salads and oatmeal; dried peaches, apricots, and nectarines in cookies, etc. They not only cut down on the sugar intake but also add a flavor dimension.
Add ground nuts to thicken Indian gravies and whole dried fruit to sweeten them–these are traditional cooking techniques that we have forgotten!
This article first appeared on Gourmet Table on NOVEMBER 13, 2013.