Nuts and Seeds: Energy and Nutrient-Dense Foods
Nuts and seeds are energy and nutrient-dense plant foods that have been sustaining humans since ancient times.
In a botanical sense, a nut is actually a fruit, and contained within that fruit is a hard shell and a seed. Many times these seeds themselves are referred to as “nuts” in culinary use. Hazelnuts and chestnuts are examples of both botanical and culinary nuts. Furthermore, many other commonly referred to nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans, are not even the seeds of botanical nuts, but are the seeds of stone fruits (drupes). Peanuts in fact are actually a legume, as well as a botanical seed. For ease of categorizing and due to general similarities in nutritional profiles, nuts and seeds receive a treatment here as one category of healthful eating.
An Important Source of Nutrition and Culinary Diversity
Nuts and seeds have been essential to keeping humans and many other animals (squirrels, many species of birds, and mice, for example) alive in the wild. They are dense sources of energy, macronutrients and micronutrients.
Tree nuts such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts were some of the very first harvested foods in ancient civilizations, beginning more than 10,000 years ago. In addition, sunflower and pumpkin seeds have been eaten by indigenous tribes ranging from North to South America for thousands of years. These nuts and seeds remain an important source of nutrition and culinary diversity to this day.
Macro and Micronutrients Associated with Nuts and Seeds
Many nuts and seeds are great sources of healthful unsaturated fats (both mono and polyunsaturated), and vegetable oils derived from nuts and seeds are also usually very good sources of healthy fats, including omega 3 fatty acid. They are also solid sources of vegetable protein and dietary fiber, and are relatively low in carbohydrates (low glycemic index).
As for micronutrients, nuts and seeds are often high in several vitamins and minerals. Certain nuts and seeds, such as almonds and sunflower seeds, are high in vitamin E, zinc and calcium. Nuts and seeds are also some of the best sources for magnesium, which is an important mineral in regulating blood glucose levels for diabetics and those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Phytonutrients like flavonoids and phytosterols are also found in abundance in nuts and seeds and many exhibit antioxidant properties.
The Role of Nuts and Seeds in Traditional Diets
Given the high density of nutrients, and the fact that they are important components of healthful traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, it should not come as a surprise that the consumption of nuts and seeds has been connected to enhancing cardiovascular health and the prevention of heart disease. An added benefit is that these powerful foods, when consumed in moderation, are being shown to aid in both the prevention and management of diabetes.
For those inclined to snack, which is not generally recommended, nuts and seeds are a very good alternative to more common processed snack foods like potato chips, crackers and cookies, and can be a useful snack food for diabetics to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Due to rising levels of obesity around the world, it is recommended that nuts and seeds be eaten with some level of moderation due to their high energy-density(calories). These are far from “empty” calories, however, and nuts and seeds should be considered one of the healthiest and most complete components of an overall balanced diet.
Learn More about Nuts and Seeds and Their Role in Diabetes Prevention and Management
Resources and Further Reading
A study reviewing recent research of nuts and their role is helping prevent and manage diabetes: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5bde/23c51a52ba4293e6376189e144916d5f3a30.pdf
The role of dietary fats in the prevention of diabetes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654180/
The role of nuts in the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular health: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303
Plant-based diets, including nuts and seeds, help to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes: http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039
More about the history of nuts and seeds: https://navs-online.org/articles/nuts-seeds/
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