When you’re looking to satisfy a craving, eating nuts and seeds can be a hearty, healthy way to mollify your hunger. They can sometimes be high in calories. But nut consumption is an easy way to snack without throwing your body out of whack.
In fact, nuts and seeds are so healthy, they top the list of the world’s healthiest lifestyles. The Mediterranean Diet, for example, relies heavily on nuts and seeds.
And many people enjoy pine nuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans. But have you ever really wondered… just what are nuts and seeds? And why are they such staples in vegan and vegetarian diets?
It’s a Fruit, Believe it or Nut
Well, a nut is generally a dry fruit from a particular tree. This dry fruit actually grows in a hard shell. While the shell can’t always be eaten, the “fruit” inside can.
Any oily, sizable kernel found inside a shell may be referred to as a nut. The following are examples of common nuts…
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
Often, the term ‘nut’ is misused to identify a seed. So…
What Exactly is a Seed?
A seed, on the other hand, is essentially a baby plant. Some seeds are simply tiny specks. Other seeds might be small pods. And some seeds are actually clustered.
The following is a list of common edible seeds…
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
Surprise, It’s Not a Nut
Contrary to popular belief, peanuts are actually legumes, like beans. They’re called nuts because they bare a striking resemblance to tree nuts. Cashews are technically drupes, not nuts. And coconut is classified as a fruit (even though the FDA does recognize it as a tree nut).1
Nut consumption has recently proven to help reduce risk factors for certain health issues. In fact, a number of studies show positive health effects after nut consumption. This can be due to the fatty acid profiles of certain nuts.
Also, nuts contain a good deal of vegetable proteins. They also have dietary fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Nuts are full of carotenoids and phytic acid. These may possess specific antioxidant capabilities.2
Put the Nut in Nutrient
Of course, the nutritional values of specific nuts and seeds differ. But in general, the following information seems to be true about most nuts…
- When it comes to plant foods, nuts are among the richest in fat.
- Nuts, like almonds and pistachios, are low in saturated fatty acids.
- Half the fats in nuts are unsaturated, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
- Nuts contain linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. These are the plant versions of omega-3 fatty acids.
- The lipid profile of nuts contributes to their beneficial health effects.
- Nuts contain healthy doses of calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Unprocessed nuts are low in sodium.
- Nuts, like Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts, may help support healthy blood pressure.
- They are a wonderful source of protein.
- Nuts contain L-arginine (a beneficial amino acid).
- And they are an amazing source of dietary fiber.3
The Nutritional Power of Seeds
The majority of seeds out there are extremely rich in nutrients. For instance, flax seeds contain significant amounts of the following vitamins…
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Folic acid 4
Pumpkin seeds are nutritional superstars, too. Pumpkin seeds are a healthy source of magnesium. Low in calories, they contain nutrients that help your heart and bones stay healthy. To find out more, read on…
The Power of Pumpkin Seeds
One of the great benefits of pumpkin seeds is their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids content. Again, this comes from the alpha-linolenic acid in the seed.
Furthermore, pumpkin seeds are filled with antioxidants and fiber. These nutrients benefit your heart and liver.
And the fiber in pumpkin seeds may help lower cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart health concerns.5
Ch-Ch-Ch- Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are exceptional health boosters. That’s mostly due to their fiber content and the fact they’re low in calories. Chia seeds consist of mostly soluble dietary fiber and mucilage. Mucilage gives chia seeds their gluey texture.
The fibers in chia seeds might help to support healthy cholesterol. They can even help slow the pace of digestion. This slow-down can help prevent spikes in your blood sugar just after eating. It can even help you feel satiated. And chia seeds offer the following nutrients…
- Polyunsaturated fat, as omega-3 fatty acids
Are All Nuts and Seeds Healthy?
The answer is… yeah. Pretty much. As long as you eat them in moderation. Most unshelled nuts and seeds host healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
This includes the following nuts…
Just be careful when eating nuts that are flavored, sweetened, or salted. Flavored almonds and cashews are everywhere, and they can really pack on calories. But these nuts and seeds are considered a processed food. Stick to simply raw and dry-roasted nuts and seeds, and you’ll be okay.
Nuts About Nuts and Seeds
For vegans, it can be hard to settle on a healthy snack. But there’s really no need to fill up on processed foods or rely on cookies and crackers. Try a handful of almonds and brazil nuts — or a combo of nuts and seeds — when you feel like a nosh.
And if you add nuts and seeds to your favorite veggie dishes, you enhance the flavor and texture of your dish. (Tip: Sprinkle some nuts and seeds on your salad and toss croutons to the curb. Try sesame seeds or sunflower seeds!)
Nuts and seeds can give you a good deal of protein and nutrients. So, if you’re trying to replace animal proteins, give nuts and seeds a go. Your body will say thanks, and your taste buds will be delighted.