Although they weren’t sprinkled on Greek yogurt or salads back then, nuts and seeds have been an important source of nutrition as far back as 10,000 years ago. Anthropologists believe ancient civilizations harvested them regularly due to their energy content, predictable growth patterns and long storage lives. The Ancient Romans gave the gift of honey-covered almonds at weddings; this sweet tradition evolved into sugared almonds or “Jordan almonds,” which are still given as wedding favors today.
Did you know that all nuts are seeds, but all seeds aren’t nuts? A nut is a fruit made up of a seed and a hard shell, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts. But some seeds can be separated from the fruit—like pumpkin or pomegranate seeds—therefore, they aren’t considered nuts. Even more interesting—peanuts aren’t nuts! They are legumes that grow underground.
Chock Full of Nutrients
Seeds and nuts contain an incredible list of nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, protein, carbs and healthy fats. Many offer minerals not found enough in our everyday diets, like magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium. But—like most things—nuts are best eaten in moderation because more than a handful or two can load you up with excess fat and calories. Some of the lowest calorie choices for nuts are almonds, cashews and pistachios and the lowest calorie seeds are pumpkin, squash and flax.
Along with all those great vitamins and nutrients, nuts and seeds also contain elements and compounds known to fight heart disease, reduce cancer risk and other conditions. Pumpkin and flax seeds have high levels of essential fatty acids which help lower bad cholesterol, reduce inflammation and promote blood vessel health. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E, which is known to protect cells from damage, and the calcium, zinc and phosphorus in sesame seeds promote bone health and may help fight osteoporosis.
Go Organic & Non-Roasted
Keep in mind you’ll enjoy the most health benefits from raw nuts and seeds. The roasted varieties may have been heated in hydrogenated or omega-6 unhealthy fats and the high-heat process can destroy nutrients. Roasted nuts and seeds are also usually salted or flavored—and double check those labels because some major brands have sprinkled neuron-destroying monosodium glutamate (MSG) on their products. Also, because of their high unsaturated fat content, nuts and seeds can really soak up pesticides, so be sure to choose organic whenever possible.
Next time you’re looking for a crispy, crunchy snack, salad or yogurt topping, choose nuts or seeds with confidence—and know you’ve made a choice that’s chock full of good stuff for you. Stay tuned for a future post detailing the best nuts and seeds to incorporate in your diet.