Eating more Nuts, Legumes, and Seeds

Seeds

With so much evidence emerging about the harms of excessive meat and dairy consumption, nuts and seeds are now taking over the protein spotlight.  These natural foods are tasty,  have more protein than grains, are good sources of polyunsaturated fat, vitamins (A, D & E), minerals (Fe, Zn, Cu, Ca, K, P, I) and are much cheaper than meat and dairy.

Legumes also fall within the category of seeds. Specifically, legumes refer to dried beans, lentils and peas.

Legumes

 Historically  legumes have been the main source of protein for most of the world for about 8000 years. Presently there are 13, 000 different varieties of legume grown worldwide. Unlike the damage caused to the earth by the overgrowing livestock ranges, legumes actually replenish soil with nitrogen. So-much-so that farmers would even grow beans between rows of corn, a grain that depletes the soil of nitrogen.

Nutritional Value

Legumes are high in carbohydrates, soluble fibre, minerals (especially iron, potassium, calcium, zinc) and vitamins (especially the B vitamins and folic acid). They also contain very little, if any, fat and cholesterol. Even though legumes are a good source of protein, they are considered an incomplete protein because they are low in the essential amino acid methionine. This shortcoming can nevertheless be very easily overcome when legumes are combined with grains, foods that legumes are most normally eaten alongside.

 A complete protein source is considered one that possesses all the vital amino acids for every living cell. That means a combination of over 20 amino acids, 8 of which must be obtained from our food as the body cannot produce them.  These 8 amino acids are therefore called the essential amino acids. Nonetheless, research has shown that diets do not necessarily have to have a complete spectrum of amino acids in every meal. Amino acids ingested at other times can complete deficiencies from past meals without difficutly.

If there were any negative points about legumes then it should perhaps be stated that legumes contain a high level of purines. Purines are a protein that should generally be avoided by sufferers of gout because they increase levels of uric acid which can precipitate a gout attack. Legumes also often cause flatulence when first eaten after a long while, but with continuity the body can become accustomed to producing the adequate level of enzymes needed for their digestion.

How to incorporate Legumes into the diet

Legumes have been shown to lower cholesterol because of their soluble fibre content and help stabilize blood sugar levels because they provide a slow, steady supply of glucose.

  • introduce legumes into your diet slowly to give time for your digestive system to adapt.
  • legumes should NOT be given to children less than 18 months of age because they do not have sufficient stomach enzymes to digest the legumes

Storage Tips

Dried legumes can be stored in airtight glass jars away from heat and light for 6 months to a year; vitamin B6 deteriorates when the legumes are exposed to light. Cooked legumes will last up to 5 days if stored in the refrigerator or they can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Summary of common Legumes

Fava/Broad

  • native to the Arab World
  • large legumes; have a tough outer skin that can be pealed off after soaking
  • great in soups or marinated in a salad with fresh herbs, vegetables, olive oil
  • good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus
  • avoid if suffer from favism, severe form of anemia

Adzuki   

  • considered the ‘king of legumes’
  • good in salads, with rice, in stews, chili or as a side dish

Kidney                

  • derives its name from its ‘kidney’ shape
  • one of the most popular legumes in N.A.
  • very high in protein and fibre

Garbanzo/Chickpeas          

  • cultivated since 5000 BC, popular worldwideused in middle eastern dishes such as hummus and falafels
  • tan coloured legumes are most popular however there are also red, white, brown and black varieties
  • excellent source of calcium, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, iron and folic acid

Black-eyed

  • not a pea, it is actually a bean
  • quick cooking
  • high in selenium, B vitamins

Pinto

  • popular in southwestern dishes
  • used in refried legumes, sauté the cooked bean in olive oil, garlic and tamari; also use in chili, soups -high in potassium, iron, calcium, protein and folic acid

Lentils, Red, Green, or Brown    

  • related to peas
  • native to Asia, staple for millions of people
  • quick to cook and do not require soaking time
  • easily digested
  • use in soups, stews, gravies, casseroles, salads

Mung

  • used therapeutically for its detoxifying properties, high in nutrients
  • from India and China
  • most often seen as bean sprouts in Chinese cuisine
  • easy to digest                  

Soy, beige or black              

  • native to China, most widely cultivated bean in the world
  • will inhibit an enzyme needed for digestion unless they are well cooked, more
  • commonly fermented which makes them easier to digest (eg. tempeh, tofu, miso, soy sauce)
  • contain almost all of the 8 essential amino acids, high in omega-3 oils, B-vitamins, iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, lecithin, antioxidants

Lima/Butter        

  • very starchy bean therefore not a good choice for someone with compromised digestion
  • sweet starchy flavour similar to a chestnut therefore can bee eaten mashed, like potatoes
  • very alkalizing to the body

Nuts

Nuts have been called the ‘meat of the plant world’. They too, however, are low in certain amino acids such as tryptophan and methionine. As such, a diet containing grains, as is likely, is needed to complete the amino acid balance. Nuts have also been found to be higher in oils than seeds, and rich in protein and minerals (K, Mg, Ca, Fe, Zn, Se, Mn). Both seeds and nuts are typically the best source of vitamin E.

Storage Tips

It is always best to buy fresh, organic (toxins accumulate in seeds and nuts due to their high oil content), raw, unshelled seeds and nuts.  Store hulled seeds and nuts in non-plastic containers in cold places (refrigerator/freezer) to preserve their oils.

Preparation for Eating

The best way to enjoy seeds and nuts is soak them overnight to initiate the sprouting process, this will make the fats and proteins more digestible; dry and eat raw.  Lightly roasting seeds and nuts reduces the effect of rancidity and makes nuts easier to digest also, but overheating can transform the oils into a harmful state.

A summary of Seeds and Nuts

Almonds             

  • best all round nut, lower in fat than most nuts
  • 6 grams of protein/oz
  • oils are very stable
  • high in vitamin E, Ca
  • mostly unsaturated fat, high in linoleic acid (omega 6)
  • alkaline

Flaxseeds           

  • highly susceptible to rancidity, buy whole seed and grind just before eating
  • high in linolenic acid (omega 3)

Cashews            

  • sweet flavour
  • 4 grams of protein/oz
  • use lightly roasted to rid of caustic oil found in hard shell
  • lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates that most nuts

Hazelnuts          

  • use raw or cooked, or as flavouring in sauces
  • high in vitamin E
  • mostly unsaturated fat, high in linoleic acid (omega 6)

Peanuts

  • not easily digested
  • 8 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons
  • when stored, susceptible to carcinogenic fungus called aflatoxin
  • heavily sprayed
  • high in vitamin E
  • highest in B vitamins than most nuts

Brazil                   

  • high in vitamin E

Pistachios           

  • sweet flavour
  • used to make sauces, flavouring in cakes and iced cream

Walnuts              

  • shelled, resembles a human cerebral cortex
  • eat raw, use in baking

Chestnuts           

  • use roasted
  • high in starch, low in protein and fat

Pumpkin seed  

  • can be eaten raw, roasted; best to lightly roast to remove E. coli from surface
  • high in Mg, Zn

Sesame

  • need to be chewed well or will pass thru intestinal tract unused
  • commonly used in tahini, halawa, and humus
  • can be eaten raw, dry, roasted
  • high in Ca

Pecans                 

  • lowest protein and highest fat of all nuts

Sunflower          

  • native to South & North America
  • 8 grams of protein per ¼ cup
  • best eaten raw
  • highly susceptible to rancidity
  • high in K, low in Na
  • if soaked over night, more digestible and alkaline

As heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a long list of other diet related illnesses keep affecting higher and higher percentages of the population, people will begin to look for ways to alter their eating patterns.  Most people currently consume more protein than the average person requires mostly in the form of animal products. Meat and dairy are filled with saturated fats that, although necessary in the diet, have been correlated with many of the above mentioned conditions when eaten too often. Vegetarianism may not be right for everyone, but increasing non-animal based products in the diet does have its benefits. For those wanting to make a few healthy changes, nuts and seeds will be good choices in place of the meat and diary that is the usual source of most peoples’ protein.