What are nuts and seeds? A nut is a type of fruit. A fruit is a mature ovary from a flower. Every fruit contains one or more seeds. Every seed has the potential to germinate and grow into a mature adult plant. As seeds mature, the surrounding tissue develops into a fruit. This fruit can take many forms; some plants make berries (like blueberries or tomatoes), some make legumes (like peas and beans). The fruit of cereal grasses are grains like wheat or corn.
Many plants make a fruit called a nut. Technically, a nut is a single-seeded fruit with a hard, dry outer wall that doesn’t crack open at maturity, such as an acorn. Some things we call “nuts” are not, botanically speaking, nuts. A peanut is a legume. Almonds and coconuts are a type of fruit called a drupe.
OK! Now that we have had some science, forget all that and let’s talk about using nuts and seeds properly, and that means we have to get past the toxins in the seeds, make them more digestible, and get some answers on how many are really OK to eat. A handful? Three handfuls? A half-pound a day?
Seeds coat themselves with toxins as their defense system, designed to prevent ants, animals and humans from eating them. These toxins can be bitter, or poisonous, or damaging. We all learned in school that acorns were soaked before Indians ate them, but the same is still required for most other nuts and seeds today. All seeds should be well soaked and drained before eating. Whether you choose to then cook the wet seed (rice), or dehydrate it (hazelnuts or macadamias), or just use them wet on your salad or veggies (sunflower seeds, almonds), the first key step is to soak some of the toxins away.
Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient designed to keep the seed from sprouting prematurely. Unfortunately, it binds up minerals in our intestines, so we lose much of the valuable nutrients in nuts and beans that way. Soaking will remove much of this. Soaking will NOT remove the gluten and gluten-related toxins and lectins however. This is one reason why Ancestral Diets such as my Diet For Human Beings, and the Primal Blueprint diet suggest avoidance of all grains and beans.
Almond flour makes great muffins, quiche and pan cakes, but like whole almonds, it can contain phytic acid. Fortunately, buying blanched almond flour means the almonds have been skinned (removing much of the phytic acid and seed toxins) and then blanched, removing even more. Blanched almond flour is still very high in calories though, so a little goes a long way. A quarter cup of almond meal contains 15g fat, 5g carbs, 7g protein and 180 calories. And that’s basically just one big handful of almonds! Avoid almond meal, as it has the skins still on it and has not been blanched.
Nuts also contain varying amounts of Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats – the bad ones that we try to balance with Omega 3 fats. The nuts lowest in Omega 6 PUFA’s are macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and chestnuts. These are your best nut choices. The nuts lowest in phytic acid are almonds, walnuts and chestnuts. Fortunately, soaking any of them will remove much of the phytic acid, so learn to do that properly (see Nourishing Traditions chapter on Snack Foods) or buy them that way at Wilderness Family Naturals, and others. Read here for more info on soaking.
If you have any of the RetroViruses such as Herpes, Epstein Barr, Cytomegalo Virus, or HIV, avoid nuts unless you take a Lysine capsule with them. These viruses feed on Arginine which is an amino acid that is high in nuts, grains and chocolate. Taking the Lysine will help, but don’t overdo…. This article on Best and Worst Foods for Herpes explains a lot more. I carry several great supplements for these viruses in my online store and clinic as well. See some here.
If your weight loss has plateaued on your Paleo Diet, check the amount of nuts and seeds (and nut butters) you’re eating. You may be using them as convenience foods rather than the condiment they really are.