What would we do without these crunchy little hunger-abating goodies? As a vegan, I’ve grown even fonder of a good trail mix, but I’ve often wondered, aside from the obvious protein and fat content, how are nuts feeding my body? If only squirrels could speak. As I suspect I may never be able to communicate telepathically with squirrels (le sigh), I’ve done some research, and here’s the low down:
The benefits of nuts and seeds
Of course, every nut is special in its own way, but generally speaking, in addition to protein and fat, nuts and seeds are concentrated sources of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals such as phosphorous and magnesium, and cancer-preventing anti-oxidants.
No doubt you’ve heard about the importance of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Here’s a little refresher on why we should put them in our bodies: they boost cognitive function (brain food!) and reduce inflammation, which can help ward off conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, and heart disease. In addition, omega-3’s may also play a role in mental health and cancer prevention.
Some of the best known vegan sources of omega-3’s are walnuts and flax seeds, but did you also know that chia seeds and hemp seeds are significant sources of these healthy fats? If you haven’t already, I’d recommend adding some or all of these seeds/nuts to your diet. Walnuts are great to snack on, and go well in salads; while flax, chia, and hemp seeds are easily added to cereal and oatmeal, and taste great sprinkled over salads or added to baked goods.
Nuts are Filling!
One might assume that consuming nuts on a regular basis could lead to weight gain due to their high caloric density. However, some studies have shown that consuming nuts can help reduce further calorie intake, as participants a study who drank a shake for breakfast that included walnuts reported higher levels of satiety and sense of fullness than participants who had the placebo shake without the walnuts. This greater sense of satiety can lead to reduced calorie intake, which in turn could actually bring about weight loss. Of course, nuts consumed in excess could have the opposite effect, but if you’re looking for that feeling of fullness, adding a few nuts to your regular balanced meals could be an excellent idea.
Amping Up Your Nut’s Nutrition
So we’ve established that nuts are healthy. Go nuts! Another great way to enjoy nuts and optimize their health benefits is through soaking. Soaking nuts and seeds initiates the germination process, which increases the vitamin content and eliminates enzyme inhibitors, allowing your body to absorb more nutrients. In addition, soaking nuts often gives them a more appealing taste. Use raw, not roasted, nuts and in general, the harder the nut the longer the soak. If time is an issue, even soaking nuts for twenty minutes can allow you to reap some benefits. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to soak though, unsoaked nuts are better than no nuts at all!
Hopefully you are now pining for (pine?) nuts, and given all the health benefits/uses, nuts and seeds are a great staple to any vegan diet. Whether you enjoy your nuts and seeds in trail mix, smoothies, baked goods, salads, oatmeal, or as a healthy snack, know that you’re noming on a good dose of nutrients that’s got you covered in the satiety department.