Boost your Immunity with Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds benefit the glandular, digestive/detoxification, and respiratory immune centers.
Pop a nut if you know what’s good for you. That handful of nuts taken five days a week may be just what you need to erase fatigue, irritability, insomnia, or asthma. At the very least, say researchers, it can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 15 percent and perhaps more. Even better, there is an inverse relationship between eating nuts and death from any cause.
Nuts contain both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and the essential mineral magnesium. More than 350 enzyme systems in the body depend on magnesium to function in your favor. Nuts are among the twelve food groups that are high-fiber foods—5 or more grams of fiber per serving.
Best Nuts, All-Star Seeds. While the gateway nut for many of us may be the peanut (two-thirds of our nut consumption is this legume eaten as a nut), the best choice for immunity is the walnut, followed by the almond and the pistachio. Among the seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds outscore sesame, chia, and all the rest, with the exception of flaxseed, in a category by itself. Pecans are rich in gamma-tocopherol, which helps minimize fat oxidation, which in turn deters arterial decline. For vitamin C, enjoy chestnuts, the only nut with any of this nutrient (3.5 ounces give you more than 40 percent of the DV for vitamin C).
Fish Oils in a Nut. Walnuts, like flaxseeds, have more antioxidants than other nuts and are one of the few sources of plant-based fatty acids (otherwise known as ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid) plus plant sterols, which help lower serum cholesterol, improve cognitive function, and reduce the risk for anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s, says the Linus Pauling Institute. Because of this special polyunsaturated fat (or PUFA), walnuts (and walnut oil, for a treat) may also protect against asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Walnuts are rich repositories of minerals in short supply in most diets—magnesium, folate, and copper.
Almonds for Your Health. Almonds are the best source of vitamin E among nuts, also delivering more protein (7.6 grams) than a large egg. One-quarter cup also gives you 75 percent of your need for the B vitamin biotin, essential for energy and smooth skin. Because of its argentine content, almonds promote vasodilation, relaxing the blood vessel walls and increasing blood flow.
Peanuts for Protein. One ounce of peanuts a week in some studies reduced the risk of diabetes by 30 percent. Nuts are the high point of many a hypoglycemic’s day and with good reason. Like almonds, peanuts supply more protein than a large egg (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) plus fiber and zinc for normal immunity.
Pistachios for Fiber. You get more fiber from a serving of pistachios than from a half cup of spinach. You also get more nuts in a serving (47) than with most other types.
Four Heart Benefits. All nuts contain high levels of a compound called protease inhibitors, known to block cancer in animals. Also nice about nuts are the lipid-lowering polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats they contain. In one study at Loma Linda University in California, participants who ate nuts five times a week had half the risk of heart attack and coronary-related death as those who didn’t. Indeed, a handful once a week produces a 25 percent reduction in your heart disease risk, including hypertension and stroke.
Pop a Nut for Cancer Protection. Pop a big Brazil nut, and you get a small helping of selenium, a mineral that lowers the rates of several types of cancer. Stir those nuts into some steamed whole grains and you double your dose. Indeed, according to a joint report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, a high-nut diet can protect you against certain cancers—ellagic acid is one reason. Walnuts and pecans contain this phytochemical that can inactivate cancer cells and also has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Isoflavones, which protect the heart and defend the body from tumors, are another. Nuts also contain luteolin and tocotrienols.
Seeds. An ounce of sesame seeds supplies three times the iron in an ounce of beef liver without the contaminants and the fat. Hemp seeds, like quinoa and soy, supply a range of essential minerals, are a complete protein similar to milk and dairy, and are richer in omega fatty acids than olive or flaxseed oils. Seeds are available as a tasty cold-pressed oil, as a seed meal to use as a protein food, and as a ready-to-eat cereal. Keep all three on hand. See the earlier section on flaxseed, too.
Buying, Storing, and Preparing Nuts and Seeds
- Cashews, walnuts, and other nuts can provoke allergic reactions, often severe. Also, 90 percent of kids who are allergic to tree nuts are often allergic to peanuts (a legume, not a nut) as well.
- Nuts are contraindicated if you have colitis, Crohn’s disease, or diverticulitis.
- Nuts are relatively high in calories. Eat them by the handful, not like popcorn. The recommended serving is 1/4 cup.
- Peanuts, especially when processed into peanut butter, can be contaminated with a mold that produces a highly carcinogenic substance called aflatoxin. Eat peanut butter in moderation, and buy organic to reduce the risk.
- Buy raw nuts in sealed packages. Roasted or exposed to light and heat (in bins), the oil in nuts can turn rancid and risky.
- Keep nuts and seeds in the fridge (even the freezer) to prevent rancidity. This is even truer for nut and seed oils, which should be purchased in small quantities in dark bottles to prevent oxidation from air and light.
- Buy cold-pressed organic nut and seed oils for safety and to get the best quality.