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The nutty way to good health

Rohini Diniz

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 in order to keep 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, a powerful antioxidant and neurohormone that helps regulate sleep.

Eating walnuts may benefit one’s 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 a snack or can be chopped and added to salads, sandwich fillings and cakes, 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 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 six months.

Pistachios: Commonly known as pistas, they are delicious tree nuts that are available with or without their hard outer shell. Like almonds, cashew nut and walnuts, pistas are also good sources of protein. They are rich in MUFA and are excellent sources of vitamin E, B complex vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 and folic acid. They are storehouses of minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

Pistachios contain a range of antioxidant phytochemicals such as phytosterols, carotenoids, gamma tocopherol, and polyphenols that are thought to act synergistically with the nutrients to help promote cardiovascular health, glycemic control and weight maintenance when eaten as part of a healthy diet. Pistas are an ideal post exercise snack for casual fitness enthusiasts and athletes. They provide energy and are a rich source of protein. When eaten along with a carbohydrate food they aid in muscle repair and recovery after rigorous exercise. Pistas also help replenish the body with potassium, a mineral lost through sweat during intense exercise.

Flaxseeds: Also known as alsi or sonbiya, flaxseeds are a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid particularly for vegetarians. They are also a rich source of soluble fibre in the form of mucilage gums, protein, vitamins B1, B2 and B6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and manganese. They also contain insoluble fibre and the phytochemical lignans that has been shown to have anticancer properties.

Being rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fibre, flaxseeds help lower total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. When mixed with water, the mucilage gums in flaxseeds become very thick. This combined with the insoluble fibre content makes flaxseeds, a natural laxative thereby preventing constipation.

Flaxseeds are larger than sesame seeds and consist of a smooth and shiny hard shell. Ground flaxseeds are easier to digest than whole seeds as whole seeds pass undigested through the digestive system without providing any health benefits. Due to their high fat content, flaxseeds and flaxseeds powder turn rancid very fast. Hence it is best to store them in the refrigerator.

Flaxseeds can be added to or sprinkled on almost any food. To add them to your diet use them in roasted and powdered form in pancakes, french toast, baked goods, smoothies, yogurt, breakfast cereals, soups and salads. They can also be eaten as a delicious dry chutney powder instead of pickles along with meals.

To be continued. . .

(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 18 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on rohinidiniz@gmail.com)

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