We frequently find ourselves investigating numerous food alternatives in our search for a well-balanced and nourishing diet. While many dietary fads come and go, nuts and seeds are one food group that has endured and has gained popularity for its numerous health advantages. Your meals and snacks may become nutritious powerhouses due to the abundance of healthy fats and proteins that are included in these little nutritional powerhouses.
In this article, we will dig into the world of nuts and seeds, learn about their nutritional properties, and learn how they can be quite beneficial for improving general health and well-being. Join us as we explore the possibilities of these natural wonders and discover how to include them in your daily diet, whether you are a seasoned health enthusiast or you are just starting on your path to healthy living.
Understanding Healthy Fats and Proteins
A baseline knowledge of good fats and proteins is necessary for a balanced diet. We will discuss the many forms of dietary fats, the significance of proteins to the body, and how to achieve a harmonic ratio of these two macronutrients for optimum health in this part.
What are dietary fats?
Like protein and carbs, fat is a type of food that your body requires for energy, to absorb vitamins, and to maintain the health of your heart and brain. We have been told for years that eating fat can increase your waistline by inches, elevate your cholesterol, and result in various health issues. But today we understand that not all fat is created equal.
The negative effects of all fats have been attributed to “bad” fats, including weight gain, blocked arteries, an increased risk of certain illnesses, and so on. Artificial trans fats and saturated fats are examples of “bad” fats. However, omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats have the opposite impact. These are considered “good” fats. Artificial trans fats and saturated fats are examples of “bad” fats. However, omega-3 fatty acids and unsaturated fats have the opposite impact.
You will feel better emotionally and physically, have more energy, and may even lose weight if you know the difference between good and bad fats and know how to include more healthy fats in your diet.
Every product that contains fat is composed of several different types of fats. Saturated fat is present in even seemingly healthful foods like chicken and almonds but in considerably smaller proportions than those in beef, cheese, and ice cream. Saturated fats are mostly found in animal diets, even though plant foods like coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are heavy in saturated fats.
Further restricting saturated fat to no more than 7% of calories is advised. However, replacing saturated fat with refined carbs will probably negate the benefits of cutting back on saturated fat. The “bad” LDL cholesterol is reduced when refined carbs are consumed in place of saturated fat, but the “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides are also decreased. In general, the circumstance is just as bad for the heart as eating an excessive amount of saturated fat.
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are thought to be good fats because they have several advantages for well-being, including lower blood cholesterol levels, reduced inflammation, stable heart rhythms, and more. Unsaturated fats are abundant in many foods, including nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Two categories of “good” unsaturated fats exist:
1. High quantities of monounsaturated fat can be found in:
- Canola, peanut, and olive oils
- Nuts like pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds
- Pumpkin with sesame seeds, for example
2. High quantities of polyunsaturated fats can be discovered in
- Oils from flaxseed, maize, soybeans, and sunflower
- Hemp seeds
- Canola oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fat while having a larger concentration of monounsaturated fat.
An essential kind of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fat. These cannot be produced by the body; hence, food is required.
The process of hydrogenation, which involves heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, produces trans fatty acids, also known as trans fats.
- When partly hydrogenated, vegetable oils become more stable and are less likely to become rancid. Additionally, during this process, the oil is transformed into a solid that may be used to manufacture margarine or shortening.
- Oils that have undergone partial hydrogenation are perfect for frying fast food because they can endure repeated heating without degrading.
- These factors led to the widespread use of partly hydrogenated oils in the food industry and restaurants for frying, baking, processed snack items, and margarine.
Trans fats do not just come from partially hydrogenated oils in our diets. Small levels of trans fats are also present naturally in dairy fat and beef fat.
Important Functions of Protein in Your Body
Protein may be used to rebuild and repair the tissues in your body. It starts metabolic activities, maintains fluid and pH balance, and strengthens the immune system. Additionally, it may serve as an energy source and transport and store nutrients.
1. Growth and Maintenance
Protein is required by your body for tissue development and upkeep. However, the proteins in your body are constantly changing. Your body normally requires the same amount of protein to create and repair tissues as it does to break it down. The demand on your body is increased when it destroys more protein than it can generate. This frequently occurs during times of sickness, during pregnancy, and while nursing. Additionally, older persons, athletes, anyone recovering from an illness or surgery, and others needing additional protein.
2. Causes Biochemical Reactions
The millions of biochemical events that occur both within and outside of your cells are aided by enzymes, which are proteins. Because of the way that they are built, enzymes may interact with other molecules inside of cells known as substrates to catalyze processes that are vital to your metabolism. The digestive enzymes lactase and sucrase, which aid in the breakdown of sugar, are examples of enzymes that may work outside of the cell. Some enzymes need other molecules, such as vitamins or minerals, for a reaction to occur. Several bodily processes rely on enzymes, including digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Disease can occur from the absence or faulty functioning of these enzymes.
3. Operates as a messenger
Some proteins are hormones, which are chemical messengers that help your cells, tissues, and organs communicate with one another. They are produced and released by endocrine glands or tissues, and then your blood carries them to the tissues or organs that they are intended to affect. There, they attach to protein receptors on the cell surface. Three major categories may be used to classify hormones. (1) Protein and peptides: A few to several hundred amino acid chains are used to create them. (2) Steroids: These are produced using cholesterol from fat. Estrogen and testosterone are steroid-based sex hormones. (3) Amines: These are created from the individual amino acids tryptophan or tyrosine, which are involved in the production of hormones that regulate metabolism and sleep.
Proteins and peptides, which make up many of your body’s hormones and transfer information between your cells, tissues, and organs, are composed of amino acid chains of varied lengths.
4. Provides Structure
Some proteins are fibrous, giving tissues and cells their rigidity and stiffness. These proteins, which aid in the formation of the connective framework of several bodily tissues, include keratin, collagen, and elastin. Your skin, hair, and nails all include the structural protein keratin. The most prevalent protein in your body, collagen serves as the structural protein for your skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Collagen is just slightly more stretchy than elastin. Many biological tissues, including your uterus, lungs, and arteries, may revert to their former shapes after stretching or contracting thanks to their great elasticity.
5. Maintains Proper pH
The levels of acids and bases in your blood and other body fluids are significantly regulated by protein. The pH scale is used to determine how well bases and acids are balanced. From 0 to 14, where 0 is the most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is the most alkaline, the scale.
Your body’s fluids can maintain appropriate pH levels through several buffering processes. Even a small pH shift can be dangerous or even fatal, thus maintaining a steady pH is essential. Your body uses proteins as one means of controlling pH. Hemoglobin, a protein that forms red blood cells, serves as an example. Small quantities of acid are bound by hemoglobin, which aids in keeping the pH level of your blood at a healthy level. Your body also has phosphate and bicarbonate buffer systems.
6. Balances Fluids
Proteins control bodily functions to keep fluid equilibrium. Blood proteins called albumin and globulin draw and hold water, assisting in the maintenance of your body’s fluid balance. You will ultimately have lower amounts of albumin and globulin if you do not consume enough protein. As a result, the blood is driven into the gaps between your cells since these proteins are no longer able to hold it in your blood vessels. Swelling or edema develops as the fluid continues to accumulate between your cells, especially in the stomach region. Kwashiorkor, a severe form of protein malnutrition, is what happens when a person consumes enough calories but not enough protein.
7. Bolsters Immune Health
Immunoglobulins, or antibodies, that fight infection are made possible by proteins. Your blood contains proteins called antibodies that work to defend your body against pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Your body develops antibodies that target these foreign invaders for destruction when they penetrate your cells. Without these antibodies, germs and viruses would be able to grow unchecked and infect your body to the point where it would become ill. Your cells never lose the ability to create antibodies once your body has developed them against a certain bacterium or virus. The antibodies can then react fast the next time a certain disease pathogen enters your body. Your body builds immunity to the illnesses to which it is exposed as a result.
8. Transports and Stores Nutrients
Throughout your circulation, transport proteins move chemicals into, out of, and within cells. These proteins carry nutrients, including vitamins or minerals, blood sugar, cholesterol, and oxygen. As an illustration, the protein hemoglobin transports oxygen from your lungs to your body’s tissues. While lipoproteins carry cholesterol and other blood lipids, glucose transporters (GLUT) deliver glucose to your cells. Since protein transporters are selective, only particular molecules will bind to them. So, a protein transporter that transports glucose will not carry cholesterol. Additionally, proteins serve as storage. Iron is stored in a protein called ferritin. Casein, which is the main protein in milk that promotes infant growth, is an additional storage protein.
9. Provides Energy
You may give your body energy by eating proteins. Protein provides the same amount of energy as carbohydrates at four calories per gram. With nine calories per gram, fats have the highest calorie content. As a result of its widespread utilization throughout your body, protein is the last thing your body wants to utilize as fuel. Because your body keeps reserves for utilization as fuel, carbohydrates, and fats are far more suited to supplying energy. Additionally, they are digested more effectively than protein. In actuality, under typical conditions, protein only provides a small portion of your body’s energy requirements. The body, however, tears down skeletal muscle during a fast (18–48 hours without meals) so that the amino acids can provide you with energy. If your body’s storage of carbohydrates is limited, it also consumes the amino acids that come from decomposed skeletal muscle. This could happen after a very strenuous workout or if you do not get enough calories overall.
In reality, nuts are plant seeds. Peanuts, on the other hand, are the seeds of a legume. The majority are the seeds of trees.
Numerous develop within leathery fruits, like as walnuts and cashews, with the nut resembling the peach pit (also a seed) inside a peach. Others are categorized as real botanical nuts (hard, dry fruits that do not open to release a separate seed), including hazelnuts and chestnuts.
The advantages: Nuts are tasty tiny packages containing nutritious unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and other nutrients (see “Fat and calorie content per ounce of selected nuts and seeds”). For instance, walnuts include a lot of folates, vitamin E, and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid), while almonds are high in calcium and vitamin E. Peanuts and pecans also have a lot of B vitamins. And every nut has magnesium.
The risks: If you consume more than one or two handfuls of nuts each day, you’re adding extra calories to your diet—possibly too many—which might replace other nutritious meals and cause you to gain weight. You avoid buying almonds that have been covered in chocolate or sugar. Salted nuts, however, are OK if you consume less than an ounce. Most nuts have a salt level of less than 100 mg per ounce.
Types of Nuts
Some foods just bear the popular name of nuts; genuine nuts are dried fruits with a shell. A few examples of real nuts are:
- Acorns: Acorns have a hard shell and an edible kernel, but their raw state makes them hazardous to people due to tannins. Acorns may, however, be processed to remove the tannins and make them safe for consumption by people.
- Chestnuts: The edible nut of the chestnut tree, chestnuts are a typical dish to cook over an open fire. Because the chestnut shells are so tough, you must either roast the chestnuts or shatter them with a nutcracker to get to the actual chestnut.
- Hazelnuts: These are the fruits of the hazel tree and are a well-liked flavor for coffee and desserts. Hazelnuts are also known as cobnuts and filberts.
- Pecans: Native to Mexico and the southern United States, pecans have a crunchy texture and an oily mouthfeel. Prepare them candied or dry-roasted. An alternative is to ground raw pecans to form a pecan meal, which may then be used to make pecan butter.
- Walnuts: The inside of these real nuts, which have a waxy shell, is crispy. It is challenging for specialists to categorize walnuts as either tree nuts or drupes (fruits with a stone carrying a seed). This is why you may hear people call walnuts “drupaceous nuts.
Unlike the seeds we refer to as nuts, culinary seeds originate from plants that are produced for a variety of purposes, such as flax or hemp, flowers like sunflowers, or vegetables like pumpkins.
The benefits: Seeds offer roughly 150 calories per ounce, largely healthy fats, some fiber, and other nutrients. Additionally, they provide protein—5 to 9 grams per ounce. With two or three times the ALA of walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are also excellent providers of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.
A remarkable quantity of nutrition may be obtained from a teaspoon of seeds. Chia seeds, for example, include 2 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 78 milligrams of calcium. One tablespoon of flaxseed has 3 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Hemp seeds provide 10 grams of protein but just 1 gram of fiber per tablespoon.
The risks: In the past, doctors thought that consuming seeds might result in diverticulitis, an inflammation of diverticula (pouch-like structures that occasionally grow in the muscular wall of the colon and protrude outward). Diverticulitis and seed-eating, however, are not demonstrated to be related. In actuality, seeds are a great source of fiber, which is essential for good gut health.
Types of Seeds
Despite containing seeds, some foods include the term “nut” in their popular names. The following foods are seeds:
- Brazil nuts: A Brazil nut is the edible seed of the Brazil nut tree, and it contains a lot of calories. Many people mistakenly think that these real seeds are nuts since the seed is covered by a thin skin and enclosed in a shell.
- Chia seeds: Small and either black or white, chia seeds are the edible seeds of a flowering plant belonging to the mint family. They develop a gelatinous outer covering when a liquid is added, as is required in chia pudding recipes.
- Ground flaxseed: It is simpler to digest than flaxseed which still has its seed coat on. They may be used in a variety of dishes, including smoothies, porridge, and baked goods. In vegan dishes, flaxseeds are frequently used as an egg alternative.
- Macadamia nuts: They are spherical, oily seeds that are edible and come from the macadamia tree’s fruit. Put them in desserts like cookies, granola, nut mixes, and more.
- Pine nuts: Made from the seeds of pine trees, pine nuts have a delicate taste and are frequently used in Italian pesto recipes. They toast beautifully because they are little, oval, and quite greasy.
- Poppy seeds: Made from poppy plants, poppy seeds are used in different seasoning and spice blends in addition to everything bagel seasoning.
- Pumpkin seeds: Save the seeds for the next time you roast or carve a pumpkin. To produce a crispy, salty, and nutty snack, toss pumpkin seeds in oil and toast them in the oven.
- Sesame seeds: They are the edible seeds of the same-named flowering plant and are used in a variety of cuisines, including everything bagel spice, tahini, and sesame oil.
This article has highlighted the important advantages of including nuts and seeds in our diets. These nutrient-rich meals offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in addition to the necessary healthy fats and protein. We may support heart health, improve general health, and preserve ideal energy levels by incorporating a range of nuts and seeds into our regular meals. Accepting these organic powerhouses as a component of a healthy diet is an easy and delectable method to improve our well-being.