Nuts in a nutshell

Whether as a topping of a delicious yogurt and fruit bowl, or as a crunchy element on a salad, nuts can add health and flavour to our daily lives. Varied and versatile, nuts usually come with a side dish of health benefits, especially when inserted into a healthy diet. But… which benefits, exactly? And do you know for sure what nuts are? And how many of them you should eat?

You often hear the term “dried fruits” when referring to nuts and dehydrated fruits–as on a dried fruits platter. But dehydrated fruits (such as sultanas, dried figs, and prunes) are simply fruits from which water has been artificially removed, while nuts or oilseeds (such as walnuts and hazelnuts) are fruits (or rather seeds) with naturally very little content of water.

These fruits are characterised by having a single edible seed encased in a hard shell. Almonds, cashews, coconuts and pistachios, because their seed is encased in a juicy, edible fruit, are also called drupes. The “bag” of nuts also includes seeds such as chia, pumpkin and linseed.

Are peanuts actually nuts?

Peanuts are botanically classified as legumes (as beans, peas or chickpeas). Unlike almonds or walnuts, that grow on a tree, peanuts grow underground. They are, however, commonly considered to be a nut.

Definitions aside, nuts are part of the Mediterranean diet. They possess nutritional properties that are very beneficial to our health.

Ilustração de amêndoa

A handful of benefits

How many nuts fit in your hand? That’s the amount you should eat per day – a handful. This measure corresponds to a portion of approximately 30g and contains, on average, about 200kcal.

For every 100 grams, nuts provide between 500 to 700kcal, mostly from fat. Nuts are mainly composed of unsaturated fat, a type of fat that provides benefits for cardiovascular health, namely by helping to maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.

These are the main benefits of nuts:

  • Nuts are a source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, which contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system, and antioxidants such as vitamin E, which protect cells against undesirable oxidations.
  • They are rich in minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, which promote normal muscle functioning, plus zinc and manganese with antioxidant properties, and are also a source of iron.
  • They are a source of protein, essential for bone health and for muscle mass.

Pro Tip

If your "guilty pleasure" is chocolate and hazelnut cream, try making a homemade version with no added sugar. Simply grind hazelnuts, cocoa powder (100% cocoa) or melted dark chocolate and one or two tablespoons of milk (or milk without lactose) or a vegetable drink.

We all know how easy it is to indulge in one too many cashew nuts, walnuts, or almonds. Snacking on nuts is very satisfying but it’s easy to get carried away. Different nuts have varying amounts of nutrients, however, beware of their caloric content. Remember, nuts are mostly fat, and should be consumed in moderation.

Other things to watch out for, if you don’t have a nut allergy, are the quantities consumed and opting for natural nuts, with no other ingredients added. In the case of quantities, attention should be paid to the recommended daily doses, especially of one dried fruit in particular: Brazil nuts, also known as castanha-do-maranhão or castanha-do-pará, due to their high selenium content, which, when ingested in excess, can cause toxicity in the body. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 should consume no more than one Brazil nut a day, those aged 3 to 14 can consume two to three Brazil nuts a day, and teenagers and adults should consume no more than three to four Brazil nuts a day.

Ilustração de diversos frutos secos: caju, amendoim, noz, amêndoa, pevide.

How to include nuts in a healthy diet?

Nut-based snacks are quite common but are often processed and salted. Most commonly, these snacks include roasted nuts, whether salted or sweetened with sugar or honey, or even covered in chocolate. These extra ingredients, however, add saturated fats, sugar, or salt to your nuts, so you should check the label carefully. The best choice is always raw, unsalted, and unsweetened nuts.

The versatility of nuts and seeds means you can use your creativity to prepare delicious, crunchy, and nutritious recipes. These are some ways to include nuts in a healthy, balanced diet:

Pessoa jovem comendo frutos secos (caju, avelã, amêndoa) em cozinha moderna.
  • As a snack

Either by themselves or mixed with fresh fruits or yogurt, nuts are a convenient and healthy snack. Take them with you in small portions, so you can control the quantities – don’t forget, just a handful!

Taça de papas de aveia com mirtilos, amêndoas e banana, sobre mesa de mármore.
  • For breakfast

the first meal of the day should include a “good” source of fat, so adding nuts to yogurt, to porridge or even to a smoothie are excellent options. You can also get your healthy fats from nuts at breakfast via nut butter (see the last point).

Salada com rúcula, figos, queijo e nozes em prato de cerâmica sobre fundo de madeira velho.
  • In salads

Sprinkle your salads with chopped nuts (pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, etc.) and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame…) to add crunchiness.

Pão rústico com sementes sobre pano de cozinha.
  • In breads, cakes, and biscuits

Using nuts and seeds in baked goods is a way to add flavour and nutritional value.

Frasco de manteiga de amendoim.
  • In nut butters

Almond, peanut or hazelnut are common nut butters. They can be spread on bread, pancakes, or added to smoothies, yogurts, or cakes. They are also easy to make at home: lightly roast the nuts and then grind them in a food processor until they have the consistency of butter. Mind the caloric content and consume them in moderation – about 30g, which is roughly equivalent to one tablespoon per day.

How to preserve nuts?

Nuts should be preserved at room temperature or in the refrigerator. In the first option, the quality keeps for several months, but they can attract insect more easily. In the refrigerator, they can last for up to a year or more, because the cold prevents oils from being released and acquiring a rancid taste.

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