Are Nuts Really Healthy?
Are you buying “raw” nuts that are not really raw?
Should you pay extra for Organic nuts?
And, why bother soaking them?
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Eating nuts and seeds are a great way to add vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids to our diet…. but only if you know what you buying and how they are prepared.
Surprisingly, most of the nuts at the markets in the United States are not really “raw”, though they may be labeled as raw. Almonds in particular are difficult to purchase raw because of a law that was passed in 2007 which required that California almonds be pasteurized before being sold in stores. So, though you may be buying Almonds in a health food store or grocery store, that are labeled as “raw”, they cannot legally sell you California grown almonds unless they were pasteurized.
So, why are they marked “raw”? It sounds like false advertising to me!
To get into all that, as with many things, question who benefited from this law and how it could still label it as “raw”.
There are two exceptions to the mandate that was passed in 2007. Customers can purchase really raw Almonds if they are:
- purchased directly from the grower or
- imported almonds
Now, get this… the law does not require that the California growers pasteurize their almonds to export them either.
hmmm….. now why is it okay to import them and export them raw? I’d venture to say that they wouldn’t have an easy job selling them in other countries if they were pasteurized ‘cause other countries are a bit stricter about their quality of food supply. And, why is it we can import them and pay more for these nuts that are not pasteurized if they are so “unsafe” that this law had to be passed in the first place?
Note that most of the almonds grown in the U.S. are grown in California (about 99%) and they provide about 98% of the almonds for the U.S. market as well as a good portion to other parts of the world. And, the two incidents of salmonella outbreak that supposedly prompted the mandate to pasteurize (were years apart -2001 and 2004) were not even from farms located in California, and these farms were already using conventional practices! The Almond Board of California (not the public) proposed this mandate which helps the big farms, but not so much the smaller ones.
Why would I pay extra for these really raw and “organic” nuts?
There are different pasteurization treatments that are used on almonds: steam processing, high heat treatment (roasting) and highly toxic fumigation treatment with propylene oxide (PPO). The two that are used most often are steam processing and PPO fumigation. PPO is a carcinogen, and has been banned from being used in other industries here in the U.S. The EU banned imported nuts treated with PPO. I’ve mentioned “almonds” because the law was passed only for the almonds, but most other nuts are also treated with these methods or other pesticides. Fats absorb toxins, and nuts easily absorb the toxins in pesticides because of their high oil content. Pesticides are often put on the nuts to help preserve them (so they kill bugs and don’t go rancid as quickly) and get their yields up… is that ironic… get “fresh” tasting nuts laden with chemicals, this way they can last longer! Often times, the packaged nuts in stores are 2 years old.
Nuts are hardy and you can find all varieties of nuts and seeds that have been grown organically (or at least naturally), they don’t have to be pesticide driven. Some examples of what are used on conventionally grown nuts are as follows:
Cashews –Often treated with endosulfan and heat (highly toxic to humans and animals)
Macadamia Nuts – Treated with atrazine (causes harm to ocean life and possibly human reproduction)
Peanuts (are legumes, not nuts) – Grown in the ground and therefore readily absorbs pesticides as they grow. They are also prone to mold that produces aflatoxin which is a potent human carcinogen. Best to look for organic peanuts grown in the South West where it is not as humid.
Pine nuts - Treated with chemicals because they go stale quicker than most nuts…. a good point to get them fresh, organic and store them well.
Pistachios – Treated with phosmat (said to cause liver tumors and carcinoma and is toxic to honey bees)
Walnuts – Have many pests that eat at it and therefore use more pesticides than probably any other nut. Also has high oil content to absorb the pesticides well.
But, are nuts healthy?
Living nuts are very healthy. Note I said “living”. If they are subjected to radiation, ultra high heat or flash steamed pasteurized, even for a short time at these high temperatures, it diminishes the nutrient value, the natural protective good bacteria, and the enzymes in the nuts. Then, gas treated (such as propylene oxide, PPO) or nuts sprayed with pesticides are absorbed into the nut because of their high oil content.
You can take a look at the Organic Pastures site for of an example of soaked nuts from 2 major stores vs. raw, organic nuts (click on http://www.organicpastures.com). It shows how “living nuts” are full of life basically, and the others are full of, well… mold! My daughter is allergic to nuts, so I couldn’t do this at home to take my own pictures. Raw, organic nuts taste much more flavorful, have many nutrients, and haven’t absorbed pesticides for us eat.
Some of the nutrients that are found in nuts are: vitamin E and B’s, potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, oleic acid, amino acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These nutrients helps with many functions including heart health, cholesterol, blood pressure, bones, muscle, etc.
If you would like to view nutritional values look here (nutritionaldata.com)
Why are they hard for some people to digest? Should nuts be soaked?
As I mentioned, nuts have a good variety of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. However, nuts (seeds, grains and legumes) contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which naturally protect the nut from sprouting prematurely. Enzymes inhibitors are very hard on our stomach, not allowing us to digest our food well. Phytic acid is not digestable and is an anti-nutrient - it binds to minerals like magnesium, calcium, zinc, etc. and pulls them out of our body, thus not allowing us to absorb these nutrients.
For people with digestive issues or that have low levels of essential minerals, eating nuts can lead to an even more undesirable effect.
By soaking nuts (and seeds, grains and legumes) they start to germinate, which creates a “life force” and activates phytase. Phytase neutralizes phytic acid. Enzymes are released to allow for digestion. These vitamins, minerals and amino acids are now more abundant, creating a more nutrient rich nut for us to eat.
As Sally Fallon, wrote in 'Nourishing Traditions': “Nuts are easier to digest, and their nutrients more readily available, if they are first soaked in salt water overnight, then dried in a warm oven (you may also use a dehydrator).”
For soaking instructions, you can view my last post “Soaking Nuts”. If you plan to eat them right away (within a few days after soaking), there is no need to dehydrate – just keep them in the fridge. To keep these nutrients for a longer period of time as in traditional methods, you could then dry them to make them more crunchy or crispy.
What is the best way to store nuts?
Note that nuts are seasonal, and some nuts once they are shelled really do go rancid quickly (such as walnuts and pine nuts). So, buy them as fresh as you can, soak them, dry them and they can be stored in the refrigerator (for about a year) or freezer (up to three years). Second best would be a cool, dark, dry environment for about 6 months. Though, walnuts and pine nuts should be stored in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
Where can I get "raw" nuts, that are really raw?
Take a look at my Resource List page to find the latest resources for Nuts & Seeds. Some sources will have only raw, some have them roasted (& not soaked) and some have them soaked and dehydrated. If you plan to dehydrate or roast them at low temp yourself, buying raw imported would be the best, and you could even flavor them with some spices. If you really don’t want to mess with preparation and still want some crunch, Living Nutz offers them already soaked and dehydrated (low temp, longer times).
- Check the LivingHealthynHappy.coms Resource List page to find the latest resources for Nuts & Seeds.
- Earth Circle Organics brand (imported, raw, organic) sells at Azure Standard and sometimes on Amazon.com
- Wilderness Family Naturals - (provides Nuts & Nut Butters that have been soaked and sprouted. Cashews and Almonds heated, not chemically treated. Other nuts / butters completely raw) and many of their products are on Amazon.com
- LivingNutz.com (imported, really raw, organic. Also offers already soaked & dehydrated)
- Nuts.com (imported - look at organic/raw/non-pasteurized section)
- Your local Farmers Market merchant (ask them details on their product).
- Or maybe you are lucky enough to live next to a grower providing them locally.
- Other sources you may know of? Ask the right questions - Were they grown in the U.S. (likely California then) and being sold in a grocery store… then they are not really raw. Were they imported… then they are probably raw. Have they been soaked, dehydrated and/or roasted?
If you find other resources, please comment below and let others know.
One thing to note is that the cashew is actually a seed and is processed differently than most nuts. Cashews and Pistachios are already heated to rid the toxin that comes from the shell.
There are three issues here:
1) most of the almond industry is spraying with a known carcinogen (which is used on spices and cocoa powder by the way).
2) some of the small producers who choose not to use this carcinogen are heating or steaming the nuts, due to the mandate, which is costlier for them (than using PPO), and, their yields are lower. Yet, it's still label product as “raw”. Look at the labels when you purchase and know whether you are buying something heated or chemically sprayed.
3) farmers that truly provide raw nuts have the hardest time finding a venue to sell them, their costs associated with farming are higher, yields are lower, prices to us are going to be higher and they struggle to stay in business. Yet, they are the ones that offer the “real” nutrient dense foods for us to eat.
To sum it up, it’s best to buy and prepare nuts that are truly raw, organic, soaked and dehydrated. If you have difficulty finding raw nuts, my suggestion would be to at least look for the steam or heat treated instead of the sprayed nuts. I hope that this article gives you better insight as to what you may have been eating, especially if you find you are sensitive to them, and provide you with more knowledge as you make your purchases and prepare them to eat.
If you are interested in helping in the crusade to be able to once again provide raw almonds by local farmers at grocery stores, or at the very least to be appropriately labeled as treated by high heat, gas, or radiation (rather than mislabeled as “RAW”), then contact the Cornucopia Institute at http://www.cornucopia.org/almonds/ .
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sources: worldwellnesseducation.org, ehow.com, wikipedia.org, rawnutsandseeds.com,
photo credit: Almendros en flor by Txema Aguilar on flickr
photo credit: gas mask by singload12 on flickr
photo credit: dried nuts in pan by Chiot's Run on flickr
photo credit: dried nuts by toyohara on flickr
Disclaimer: Information on this web site was obtained from a variety of resources, including medical and nutritional publications and is provided for educational purposes only. The information on this site is not medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals. Consult your practitioner before beginning or making changes to your diet, supplements, exercise program, diagnosis or treatment of illness or injuries and for advice regarding medications. Statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.