Walnuts: Walnuts are bi-lobed kernels with a convoluted surface that resembles the human brain which is surrounded by a hard shell. They are enriched with many health-benefiting nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for optimum health particularly for vegans. They are also rich in proteins, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin E and fibre. Walnut protein contains arginine, which is an essential amino acid that the body uses to produce nitric oxide, necessary for keeping blood vessels flexible.
Walnuts contain a complex mixture of bioactive plant compounds and are exceptionally rich in antioxidants which are concentrated in the thin brown skin. Walnuts contain high amounts of the antioxidant ellagic acid which along with other related compounds like ellagitannins may help reduce the risk of heart disease and suppress cancer formation. They also contain the flavonoid antioxidant catechin that has many health benefits and melatonin, which is a powerful antioxidant and neurohormone that helps regulate sleep.
Eating walnuts may benefit your cardiovascular system, improve cholesterol in individuals with type 2 diabetes, help brain functions, protect bone health, and help prevent gallstones.
Walnuts lend a nutty flavour and crunchy texture to foods and can be consumed as such as a snack or can be chopped and added to salads, sandwich fillings, cakes such as date & walnut or carrot & walnut, breakfast cereals, milkshakes or smoothies. Walnut oil has a slightly nutty flavour and can be mixed with vinegar and used as a salad dressing. Due to their high fat content, walnuts are extremely perishable. Shelled walnuts should be stored in an airtight container in the freezer while unshelled walnuts can be stored in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Raisins (Kishmish): Raisins are grapes that are dried. Raisins are low in fat and sodium and rich in natural fruit sugar, fibre and are excellent sources of potassium, iron and vitamin B-1. They contain the antioxidant polyphenol and resveratrol, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour cardio-protective properties.
Prunes: Prunes are dried plums. They contain natural sugars mainly glucose and fructose which contributes to its caloric value. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol and are rich sources of soluble fibre. They also contain insoluble fibre which along with sorbitol is responsible for the laxative action of prunes. Prunes are rich in potassium and iron. They have a higher content of antioxidant phytonutrients particularly phenolic compounds than most fresh berries that have been associated with lowered incidence of heart disease by protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation (LDL).
Apricots (Khumani): Dried apricots are relished as a snack for their succulent moist and chewy texture. Apricots are rich in beta carotene which gets converted into vitamin A within the body which has critical functions in maintaining normal vision, in cell differentiation, growth, immunity and reproduction. They are excellent sources of the soluble fibre pectin and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, manganese.
Dates (Khajur): Grown in the arid deserts, dates are a fruit with a very low water content with a caramel like sweet flavour. Dates contain natural sugars mainly glucose and fructose along with lesser amounts of sucrose and maltose which contributes to the energy content of dates. They are also rich in fibre and contain minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium. Date puree can be used as an alternative sweetener in the preparation of cakes, sweets and desserts.
Figs (Anjeer): Although considered a fruit, figs are a flower that is inverted into itself with the seeds being the real fruit (drupe). They are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree. Figs contain natural sugars and are a source of vitamin B-6, potassium, calcium and iron. Dried figs are high in the soluble fibre pectin which when fermented in the large intestine acts as a prebiotic and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, such as bifidus and lactobacillus. Soluble fibre also has a laxative effect thereby helping to prevent and relieve constipation.
Cranberries: These are small red coloured berries that have a very sour taste in raw form. Dried cranberries resemble black currants but are red or maroon in colour. Nutritionally both fresh and dried cranberries contain simple sugars such as sucrose, glucose and fructose and also contain soluble and insoluble dietary fibres. Fresh cranberries are good sources of vitamin C, vitamin K1, iron, manganese and copper but dried cranberries contain lower amounts of vitamins. Cranberries are exceptionally rich in various bioactive antioxidant plant compounds like phenolic acids, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and anthocyanin that have been shown to have various health benefits. Since the fruit is naturally very tart, most dried cranberries have added sugar. They may also be coated in small quantities of vegetable oil to keep them from sticking together. Hence one must watch portion sizes of dried cranberries.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on email@example.com)