Are Nuts Healthy For You???
YES! Yes, yes and yes!
So…why am I writing this article if the simple answer is yes?
There’s a catch. And the catch is: it’s SUPER easy to overeat them. Especially when you have ‘cut’ many other foods out of your diet already in pursuit of being a healthier you.
Let’s face it. They taste great! They satisfy that craving for something salty and crunchy. Nut butters are filling and a great addition to any breakfast smoothie or as a dip with apples. And if you have pursued a vegan or paleo diet, they are the one food that’s still A-okay to eat.
When I was a vegan, nuts were a HUGE mainstay in my diet. I would munch on a handful of Brazil nuts, eat raw energy balls loaded with ground almonds, made pattes and vegan cheeses that were all nut based.
Then, when I later went Paleo, nut’s continued to be a pillar in my daily diet. I started making my own almond butter, sometimes eating almost a whole jar myself over the course of an afternoon. I dove into making almond flour breads, cookies, and pancakes. Going grain-free was easy when you had almond flour to use as a substitute!
And then…my body started having reactions to nuts. My skin started breaking out in cystic acne. I had nasal congestion, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. All very similar reactions that I had to gluten a year or so earlier (which caused me to go gluten free).
I thought my reactions were due to something else in my diet. But, after eliminating nuts, all my reactions went away and my skin cleared up.
Why???? Why was I suddenly reacting to nuts???? I was so upset. It wasn’t until a few years later that the pieces starting coming together. My acne and allergic reactions to a million foods (that I was suddenly intolerant to) all pointed to the fact that I had a ‘Leaky Gut’. To learn more about what Leaky Gut is, click HERE.
Unfortunately, my overconsumption of nuts contributed to this. It’s not that nuts were all bad and I shouldn’t have eat any! But rather, I didn’t know that their are some cons that you have to consider along with all the pros when consuming nuts as a daily part of your diet. And you can’t eat spoonfuls and spoonfuls of nut butters to excess just because you are grain free or vegan and are trying feel satiated.
And that’s what this blog post series is all about. I am giving you ALL the information I have gathered over the last few years on the problems that come with eating lots of nuts, solutions to those problems, how many nuts are healthy to have per day, which nuts are the healthiest an which ones are best to avoid, how to properly prepare nuts for optimal digestion and assimilation and so much more!
I don’t want you to end up with an intolerance to nuts like I did because I didn’t have the right information.
For this article, I am going to start with the problems that come with eating lots of nuts…
Let’s dive in!
I. Problems That Come with Eating LOTS of Nuts
1. Nuts Contain Anti-Nutrients:
Nuts, like grains, contain anti-nutrients such as Phytic Acid and Lectins. Nuts are especially high in the anti-nutrient Phytic acid. These anti-nutrients are there to protect the nut and the nut plant. They are the plant’s built in defense mechanism and are there to harm and wreck predators digestive systems. When nuts are consumed, the anti-nutrients built into the skin will cause so much damage to the GI tract of these bugs and animals that they will never want to eat that plant again. This causes the same effect in human digestive systems, only the destruction is more gradual over many years. It’s a plant’s natural defense mechanism for self-preservation and survival. (1)
Phytic Acid stores phosphorus in the tissues of the plant (in the skin of nuts and seeds). It encases the phosphorus in a tightly bound snowflake-like molecule. Although there are many animals with multiple stomachs and a specific enzyme (called phytase) who are able to digest phytic acid easily and access the encased phosphorus, humans (and other animals with one stomach) are not. Therefore, this phyic acid compound where the phosophorus is locked up in the phytic acid is called phytate. (2)
2. Nuts Can Cause Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies and Tooth Decay:
Phytic acid in nuts can actually cause the body to become deficient in essential vitamins and minerals (3). Not only is up to 80 percent of the phosphorus locked up in the phytate molecule unable to to be accessed through digestion but the arms of the phytate molecule actually bind to vitamins and minerals in the food you are eating, inhibiting you from absorbing all the nutrients. (4) Research shows that you are able to absorb 20 percent more zinc and 40 percent more magnesium from your food when phytate is absent in your meal. (2) (5) (18)
What may surprise you is that nuts often contain even more phytic acid than grains. This can lead to common deficiencies in B12 (6), iron (7) (8), calcium (9) and zinc (10) and magnesium (11) . Studies show that diets high in Phytic Acid have contributed to diseases such as Rickets due to severe calcium deficiency from phytic acid. (9)
3. Nuts Can Cause Inflammation, Leaky Gut, Autoimmune Conditions, IBS and Other Digestive Problems, Neurological Diseases and Much More:
Because anti-nutrients are severely irritating to your intestinal wall, chronic inflammation in the GI tract results. Anti-nutrients, such as lectins, actually bind to the lining of your gut. (12) (13) This leads to weakening the tight junctions in the intestinal wall which results in intestinal permeability, aka Leaky Gut. Chronic inflammation and leaky gut can THEN lead to more severe problems such as various Autoimmune Diseases, IBS and numerous other digestive problems, neurological diseases and much more. (14) (15)
4. Nuts are High in Omega 6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids:
Research shows that our ancestors (who were free of most of the inflammatory diseases that are prevelent today) ate a diet where the ratio to Omega 6 to Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) were 1:1. Today, however, the American diet has blown the above ratio out of the park. On average today the average ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 ranges anywhere from 10:1 to 20:1 (with some individuals having a ratio of 26:1). (16)
This is very dangerous as high levels of Omega 6 PUFAs in relation to low Omega 3 PUFAs have been shown to contribute to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-insulin dependent diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, and free radical formation. (17) (19)
Nuts are naturally high in Omega 6 PUFAS and so should be eaten in small amounts. I will get into exact portion reccommendations in my upcoming Part 2 of this blog post series.
5. Nuts are Highly Caloric Foods
I do not believe in counting calories. Let’s just get that out there. Instead, I believe one should focus on nourishing his/her body with nutrient dense foods, eating until satiety.
However, there are some foods that I believe you do need to be careful with. Nuts are one of those such foods.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Nuts are easy to overeat, for MOST people. I know some of my friends thought I was crazy when I told them I loved to binge on raw almonds in my vegan days. But let’s consider a jar of peanut butter or almond butter. A little spoonful here and couple spoonfuls there and next thing you know…that jar is gone!
In Part 2 of this post series I will give portion reccomendations as well as tips on how to kick the ‘spoonful-binging-of-almond/peanut-butter’ habit.
6. Nut Flours and Nut Butters are Prone to Oxidation and Molds
After being harvested, most nuts go through many months of processing, pasteurization, exposure to heat, light, and oxygen, and extended periods of storage. This is a recipe for disaster when as the Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the nuts are very delicate. When exposed to any of the above manufacturing and storage conditions for too long, they are prone to oxidation. Oxidation is when the Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids go rancid. (20)
Rancid oils are dangerous for your health in that they produce free radicals in your body. (21) Free radicals can damage the cells in your body, weakening them to be more prone to disease.
Nuts are also prone to molds (Mycotoxins) when stored in bins or in packages on grocery store shelves for months before being consumed. (22) (23) Peanuts are the most common nuts to be contaminated with a specific mold called Alflatoxins (24) (25) (26)
7. Almonds are High In Oxolates
Some nuts, such as almonds are actually high in Oxolate Acid. You want to be careful to keep oxolate exposure low in your diet by limiting the amount of high oxolate foods you eat on a daily basis. The reason this is so vitally important is that oxolates actually poison your mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of your cells.
1.Gupta, Raj Kishor, Shivraj Singh Gangoliya, and Nand Kumar Singh. “Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains.” Journal of food science and technology 52.2 (2015): 676-684.
5. Barbro, Nävert, Sandström Brittmarie, and Å. K. E. Cederblad. “Reduction of the phytate content of bran by leavening in bread and its effect on zinc absorption in man.” British Journal of Nutrition 53.1 (1985): 47-53.
10. Barbro, Nävert, Sandström Brittmarie, and Å. K. E. Cederblad. “Reduction of the phytate content of bran by leavening in bread and its effect15. Source zinc absorption in man.” British Journal of Nutrition 53.1 (1985): 47-53.
19. Yam, Daniel, Abraham Eliraz, and Elliot M. Berry. “Diet and disease–the Israeli paradox: possible dangers of a high omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid diet.” Israel journal of medical sciences 32.11 (1996): 1134-1143.
25. Dickens, J. W., and R. E. Welty. “Detecting farmers’ stock peanuts containing aflatoxin by examination for visible growth of Aspergillus flavus.” Mycopathologia et mycologia applicata37.1 (1969): 65-69.