Why Consumers Are Going Nuts Over Nuts & Seeds
While trend forecasters predict seaweed may be the new kale for 2016, nuts and seeds are likely to continue to stand their ground as a leading snack food. Often dubbed a top “superfood,” these bite-sized, tasty morsels are already known for being heart-healthy, but what exactly makes them super?
Even though some dietitians and nutritionists shy away from labeling any particular food as a superfood, or a nutrient-dense food believed to be exceptionally beneficial for health and well-being, there is no denying that nuts and seeds have mass appeal. A 2015 survey of more than 500 registered dietitians conducted by trade magazine Today’s Dietitian and Pollock Communications, a health and wellness public relations company, found over 50 percent of dietitians predicted nuts and seeds as the top two health food picks amongst consumers. Aside from being a moderately inexpensive on-the-go snack with a long shelf life, Roni Enten Vissoker, an individualized biomedical nutritionist, says one of the reasons nuts and seeds are frequently described as a superfood is because they’re packed with nutrition in very small quantities.
“You don’t have to eat a lot to get a big bang for your buck,” says Vissoker. “Pretty much every nut is spectacular in terms of its nutritional profile—from vitamins, minerals, fiber, [and] fat. That’s fabulous for a small portion of food, but because they’re high in calories, it’s typically recommended to not consume too much of them.”
Despite their high calorie content, nuts are an excellent source of protein and fiber, which provide the additional advantage of making you feel full and therefore aiding in weight management. Most nuts are chock-filled with “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) like omega-3s that help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol levels, and lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL), preventing the onset of heart disease. These nutritious nuggets are also rich in essential minerals such as calcium and antioxidants like vitamin E that strengthen the immune system preventing diseases like arthritis, memory loss, and other types of inflammation.
Should this kind of information give us permission to go nuts? Not quite. As long as you’re not allergic, Vissoker recommends consuming about a handful of raw (unsalted and unroasted) nuts once or twice a day, depending on your nutritional needs. Research shows eating a small handful of nuts a day might even help those who suffer from chronic diseases live longer. According to a June 2015 study published in The International Journal of Epidemiology, 5 to 10 grams of nuts (approximately less than a half handful) a day was linked to a reduced chance of death caused by cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
Vissoker, a holistically-minded nutritionist, is in favor of diversifying food intake, and that applies to nuts and seeds as well. “[For example], brazil nuts are considered one of the best sources of selenium,” she says. “Then you have chia seeds, a really amazing source of omega-3. I wouldn’t want to limit one kind of nut or seed. Make a mix of all of them if possible.”
Like most nuts, seeds too are high in protein and fiber. Plus, much like walnuts are rich in omega-3s, chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin seeds are considered to be among the best plant-based sources of these fatty acids. And when it comes to vitamins and minerals, most seeds, including sunflowers seeds, contain significant amounts of potassium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Although not well-known throughout the United States, Kalongi or Nigella sativa seeds (also referred to as black caraway or black cumin) are widely used as a spice across India and the Middle East. In addition, these black seeds have been used to treat ailments and diseases for thousands of years, from headaches and nasal congestion to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Research studies have shown one of the many reasons Nigella sativa seeds are beneficial for overall health is because they consist of several active compounds including thymoquinone, a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) was an advocate of Nigella sativa seeds. According to Hadith, he often described black seeds as a multi-purpose herb with medicinal effects. In the hadith translated by Sahih Muslim, Abu Huraira reported that he heard God’s Messenger (PBUH) saying, “Nigella seed is a remedy for every disease except death”.
So you want to start reaping the health benefits of eating nuts and seeds? Vissoker says it’s important to pace yourself when adding these high fat and fiber snacks into your diet, especially for the first time as they can be hard to digest for some. Vissoker recommends soaking nuts and seeds overnight in warm water to remove the skins, which helps with digestion.
Not a fan of noshing on nuts or seeds alone? Try sprinkling walnuts or cashews over your next salad or mix chia seeds into your yogurt. Nuts and seeds can also add texture and flavor to sauces, rice or pilafs, stir-fries, breads, and muffins.
The proof is in the pudding (chia pudding, that is) that nuts and seeds are well on their way to becoming among the top consumer rated foods for 2016. Whether eaten as a snack or incorporated into your next meal, these nutrient packed powerhouses are a force to be reckoned with. And by the looks of it, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Aysha Hussain is a New York-based writer and journalist. Aysha was featured in The New York Times’ “We, Myself and I,” and her work has been published in Newsday and Muslim Girl.