Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Nuts - Eat Fresh, Eat Raw

In the last post ('Are You A Nutter?') I explained that nuts are an excellent food for us, as long as they're:


RAW and

NOT EATEN IN UNNATURAL QUANTITIES (ie in amounts greater than we'd eat if we had to shell them all ourselves - in-shell nuts obviously the ideal here.)

So, for example, our new raw fooder will make the 'mock turkey roast', the 'raw carrot cake', or whatever, with a cup of almonds here, a cup of brazils there, perhaps washed down with a glass of cashew milk, and very likely suffer from bowel-freeze, football tummy and considerable discomfort the next day.


Perhaps because... the almonds were stale, and some were rancid. If she'd tried a handful before eating, and chewed them well, she might have found that they didn't taste good. If she'd eaten them singly, she might have found the odd rancid one and been able to spit it out. But how could she tell either of these things by just pouring them out of the bag and chucking them into the food processor?.

And/or perhaps because...the brazils and cashews weren't raw at all - they were cooked. She'd used a raw food teacher's recipe and not realised that, outside the months around Christmas, raw brazils can't be purchased in the UK, and, contrary to what the nice man in Julian Graves had told her (and the packet did say 'raw cashews'), raw cashews can only be purchased online.

And because she'd eaten WAY too many nuts! As our ideal is to eat nuts fresh, raw, and in natural quantities, her recipe failed on all counts.

Our raw fooder is then convinced she 'can't digest' nuts, and shares her experiences with other anti-nutters on raw food forums, who of course all agree with her. But her problems with nuts aren't the fault of the nuts!

In this article I'm mainly going to tackle 'fresh and raw', as the last post pretty much covered quantities and digestion.

I do believe the ideal is to eat lots of nuts in the Autumn, fresh off the tree, and fewer (if any) nuts during the rest of the year. However, we are fortunate in the UK that people in warmer climes in Europe (and farther away) will share their nuts with us so that we can enjoy them at other times of the year if we choose to. As these nuts will not be as fresh as they could be, it's up to each one of us to make a decision as to whether we will consume them, and, if so, in what quantity.

And, as knowledge is power, I hope to impart a little information here that could assist readers in making that decision.

So let's start with a nut-eating 'league table':

1st place:
Nuts from the tree. So, in the UK and many similar climates, this means hazels/cobnuts and walnuts in the Autumn. (Almonds are not generally hardy here.)

2nd place:
Nuts grown locally, picked recently.

3rd place:
Nuts in shell that haven't been in storage for too long. The shell helps keep the nut fresh and protects it from contaminants.

4th place:
Shelled, dried nuts. Unfortunately it's not always possible to know how long they've been stored, so try to buy from somewhere with a frequent turnover. Store in airtight containers in the fridge, but bear in mind that, even storing them this way, Vitamin E can reduce by around 30%.

The $64K question...are shelled dried nuts raw? All shelled nuts on sale will have been dried to minimise chances of mould. Some will have been dried at temperatures to 150-160 F or higher, which is above the consensual 'raw' cut-off point (around 115 F). But, for raw fooders without nut trees or easy access to one, they may be all that can be obtained. Drying at a relatively high temperature may well have adversely affected enzymes and vitamins, which means the nuts will not contain these in precisely the quantities they were designed to give. Mineral content (the big plus for nuts) is unlikely to have changed.

One test of the 'rawness' (or 'aliveness') of a nut is if it sprouts. Sadly, most attempts to truly sprout dried nuts I have heard of have come to naught (an almond 'splitting' at one tip is not sprouting.) However, Helen Armfield of the Raw Food UK forum found a 'tiny tree growing in the corner of the compost bin' from organic Italian-grown almonds bought at Holland & Barrett. Consequently, I don't feel we can 'write off' shelled nuts altogether!

No place:
Shelled, cooked nuts.

In the UK, shelled nuts on sale in supermarkets, health food/wholefood shops/markets, that might even say 'raw' on the label, but are actually cooked are: brazils, cashews, macadamias and pecans. They have all been cooked (boiled, steamed, roasted etc) to facilitate shell removal. When you eat cooked nuts, not only are you eating fat heated to high temperatures, vitamins will have been significantly damaged or destroyed, and minerals will be less bioavailable.

(One thing I found strange in my early days as a raw fooder is how so many raw food teachers would fill their recipes with brazils and macadamias, which are very difficult to find raw in the UK, and, when this was queried, would chide others for being pedantic. One (no names - but s/he is no longer active in the raw food world...) went so far as to suggest that those who cared whether their nuts were raw or not had some sort of mental health problem, when she was quite happy to tell people why they shouldn't boil, steam, etc...



In the UK, our almonds have (so far) escaped pasteurisation. US almonds are generally pasteurised, although I understand it is possible to obtain them unpasteurised from some sources (US readers - if you know of any, please post a Comment to help your fellow nutters.)

Almonds can easily be bought in shell in the UK, but...I must confess I haven't cracked (sorry) the method of shelling them efficiently, so I normally buy mine shelled. Keep a note of which suppliers like to include rancid ones (these taste vile - you'll know.) and give them a wide berth in future. I had been buying from a local wholefoods market (Infinity brand), but quality hadn't been 100% consistent. Recently I've been buying from haverawcakeandeatit, have delved into the pack several times and haven't found a bad one yet. Very good almonds - far less dry and dusty than other brands.

To test the freshness of your almonds, chew them for a very long time. If they continue to taste milky, becoming sweeter, trust your tastebuds - that means they're good!


Shelled brazils on sale in shops will have been boiled (or sometimes roasted) for several minutes for shell removal, which will certainly kill the nut and affect nutrients. Brazils are a good source of selenium, and although I'm not a biochemist, my understanding from my reading on this is that, whether or not the selenium is actually damaged, it will be changed by cooking and therefore rendered less bioavailable to us.

So brazils should be purchased in-shell. They're generally available October-January in the UK, ie around Christmas. However...I'm rather suspicious of the in-shell nuts currently being sold in supermarkets. They seem too 'yellow' in colour to be raw, don't taste as I remember brazil nuts tasting years ago and, after eating them at various points over the last few weeks, I've made an association with some rather yukky 'symptoms' following my eating of them, eg mild headaches, feeling 'sinusy' (mild deafness - build-up of pus in middle ear?), and not-nice poo (sorry!). They weren't organic (I currently have no local source of organic brazils), and I'm wondering if these in-shell brazils have in fact been cooked and/or 'treated' in some way. (Edit - I've 'tested' these yet again, and same symptoms - please avoid! Note to body - I'm sorry to have inflicted this on you, but I did it for my readers!) Perhaps someone can throw some light on this.

It is also possible that over a period of several days I overdid it on the selenium that brazil nuts are so high in; selenium is toxic in large quantities, and the quantities talked of in the articles I've found would certainly correspond to a 'handful' a day (esp. if you have large hands :-)). And the shells themselves contain toxins; most of the time when I crack brazils they don't emerge from their shells whole, and therefore it's quite possible to accidentally consume tiny pieces of shell with our broken nuts. So, if you are going to have brazils, best to stick to one or two a day, and, if, like me, you don't have the will-power to keep consumption that low, probably safest not to buy them at all.

Organic raw brazils can be purchased from http://www.keimling.eu/, although have to say that even these didn't taste like brazils-as-I-remember-them!

So jury's out on in-shell brazils...

(BTW if you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain some good, organic, truly raw, not-mucked-about-with brazils, try chewing them for a long time, and see if they taste of mushroom to you. My theory is that that's the selenium!)


Technically not a nut, but the seed of the cashew apple, the raw cashew is encased in a tough shell that contains caustic, toxic substances. So that these are not consumed, the cashews are steamed and/or immersed in a hot oil bath so that the shells and toxins can be removed.

Truly raw cashews (hand-cracked by workers wearing gloves) can be purchased from online stores such as http://www.fresh-network.com/


Try green coconuts (on sale at Tesco and ethnic shops/stalls in the summer) for their delicious water and soft flesh. IF you can get into them. I stick to enjoying them when someone else has gone to the hard work of opening them! Don't write off the less fashionable, brown-hairy, hard-fleshed, mature coconuts - they can be very good as well, although level of freshness is highly variable.


These grow easily in the UK and similar climates - we have a large cob-nut (filberts - a sort of hazelnut) tree in the garden. In-shell is of course best. If you don't have your own tree, find someone who does, and start your own for the future. Some supermarkets sell in-shell filberts in the Autumn and hazelnus around Christmastime.

Shelled...my research has suggested that these are likely to be raw (they are after all very easy to crack, so shouldn't need to be cooked for shell removal) and also that they may be dried at lower temperatures than other nuts. However, I've found (perhaps because they are dried at a lower temperature) that they do go off quickly. (I remember a US friend not knowing the phrase 'go off' - I'm talking 'go stale/rancid'.) So I don't tend to buy shelled hazelnuts very often, having my fill of in-shell ones in the Autumn.


Shelled macs in the UK are very much cooked, and often rancid. I say 'often', because I remember what shelled macs tasted like when I first went raw (and didn't realise they weren't raw) and compared that with the taste of some in-shell macs that I obtained from a tropical birdfeed shop and cracked with a heavy stone. Macs just cracked from the shell are creamy and quite different from the 'smoky' (heated fat?) taste of shelled macs. Even 'truly raw' macs (as available from keimling.eu) don't taste anything like as good as the freshly-cracked - the flavour of macs deteriorates very quickly once out of the shell. I see that funkyraw.com are now stocking raw macs, and could be worth trying but the price - £17 for 500g - would rule them out for me.

As far as macadamias go, I just accept the fact that, living here, I...just can't have 'em! I've heard raw fooders stamp their foots and say things like 'well, if I can't get raw x/y I'll still have the non-raw - I'm not going to deprive myself.' Which I've always found strange, as there are thousands of other delicious raw things we can eat!


Pecans are soaked in hot, or nearly-boiling, water for shell removal. I have heard of people here selling products claimed to be made with raw pecans, but I'd love to know how they're shelling them in large quantities without heat treatment, as I've tried, and even getting the nut out in little pieces is an ordeal. US nutters - I know pecans are popular over there - do you have truly raw pecans?


As available in the UK, they come within my 'fourth place' category - dried - and my attempts to sprout them have been unsuccessful. Pity, as, being a Grecophile, I have many happy memories of pistachios...I have had the privilege of eating pistachios guaranteed as truly raw, via a friend who had imported from Nora Lenz in the US, and they were certainly very good.


Walnuts for in-shell sale are fumigated or heat-treated to kill insects in storage. So, as organic producers will not have fumigated, they may well have heat-treated...and I haven't managed to sprout any organic walnuts I've purchased.

Ideally, save your walnut-eating till the Autumn, and find a walnut tree. If you don't have one, put a card up at a Post Office/newsagent; someone in your vicinity may well have a walnut tree and appreciate you clearing their lawn. And, of course, plant a baby tree for harvest in a few years' time, as I have. My source of fresh, moist, delicious walnuts this Autumn - so fresh they've still had their black skins, and without a hint of the bitterness sometimes found in dried walnuts - has been a lady with a walnut tree selling them at a local 'car boot' sale!

To summarise, for UK nutters, and those in similar climates, it's best to go for:

Fresh in-shell hazelnuts September - December, from local trees, or shops.
Fresh in-shell walnuts October, from local trees.
In-shell brazils, possibly...if organic, and consumption limited to one or two a day.
Almonds from Europe (in-shell or shelled) from a reliable source.
Truly raw cashews from online stores.

If you're outside the UK, make us green by letting us know what truly raw nuts you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain. (And, if you know of a source of organic, in-shell brazils, where the nuts taste good, please let me know!)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Are You A Nutter?

I am!

After weeks of feasting first on cob-nuts (like hazelnuts) from the garden, then on delicious locally-grown walnuts, and then reading in John Robbins' 'Healthy at 100' of the long-lived, healthy Abkhasians who include nuts at 'almost every meal', I thought it was about time I blogged about nuts, especially, as, for reasons I shall examine, nuts are a tad unfashionable in some raw food circles.

Some raw fooders say they can't eat them as they give rise to digestive problems. I do sympathise with that and will suggest reasons why these might be occurring. I do however take issue with those who claim that the reason they can't digest nuts is because their body is that much cleaner/digestion more efficient than that of the rest of us (always a goodie for 'raw oneupmanship') and that, consequently, nuts should not be eaten - by anyone. The last straw for me - the motivation for writing this article - was hearing someone recently describe nuts as 'dirty fuel'!

I love nuts, and they're an integral part of my raw food diet. They're a wonderful food for human beings, and I'm not the only one to think so. Regular readers will know I often refer to the writings of the Natural Hygienists, so let's kick off with some excerpts (paraphrased) from 'Nuts' by the 'father' of Natural Hygiene - Herbert Shelton (my comments bracketed):

'Botanically, nuts are fruits [so in this way are technically part of a 'fruitarian' diet], as they develop from pollinated flowers. Paleontologists tell us that primitive man was a nut eater. Nuts are rich in food values, delightfully-flavored and keep for extended periods so that man, as well as the squirrel, may store them for future use.

The nut tree, like the fruit tree, strikes its roots deep into the earth, where they take up the precious minerals...[so nut trees should not be affected by 'demineralisation' of soil, as that tends to apply to the topsoil only].

The nut is a veritable storehouse of minerals and high-grade protein, emulsified oil and health-imparting vitamins. Nuts are rich in minerals, particularly iron and lime [calcium]. In the chewing of nuts a fine emulsion is produced so that the nuts enter the stomach in a form adapted for prompt digestion.'

Dr Virginia Vetrano, writing in 'Errors in Hygiene?!!?' on nuts: 'they are packed full of bone-building minerals and proteins, and, like other fruits, are truly Nature's demonstration of love to humans.' She has observed that 'the addition of nuts to the all-fruit diet has often brought about a quick return of energy and strength, a happier disposition, faster wound healing and better growth of the hair and nails.'

The Teacher in The Essene Gospel of Peace - a wonderful litttle book of dietary instruction (and other things...) - instructed the Israelites to eat dried figs and 'the meat of almonds in all the months when the trees bear no fruits.'


As Shelton tells us, there is evidence to suggest that early man was a fruit and nut gatherer.

Man is unique in that, unlike every other creature on earth, he has been equipped with the brains and motor skills to be able to utilise all sorts of food sources. That's natural for man.

He watches the squirrel and observes that the hard capsules hanging from trees contain edible nuts. He sees that, after the squirrel has had its fill, there are hundreds of these capsules left on the ground (are in my garden anyway!), that 99% will return to the ground if uneaten, and 1% will grow into new trees. He is resourceful enough to see that here could be a food source for himself. He observes that the squirrel uses his sharp teeth to get into the capsules. So man either uses his own sharp teeth, or if these aren't up to the job, uses a stone, or invents implements to remove the nut from the shell. He also observes that the squirrel stores the nuts, and, after experimentation, finds that he can also store the nuts, provided they're kept dry. In this way, he can benefit from a tasty, concentrated-protein food source in the months ahead when there may be a relatively low amount of food (if any) growing. In this way, it benefits the man, who, through wanderlust (also natural to man) has migrated to climates cooler than those in which (we are told) he originated.

In this way, the gathering, storing and eating of nuts is entirely natural, for man. And the nuts taste good to him. They don't need to be seasoned. They don't need to be 'disguised' by mixing with other foods. It's natural for man to be attracted to, and to eat nuts.


Oh the number of nut 'downers' I've seen on raw food forums. Let's take these one by one...

'Nuts are acidic'. Are they?

Well, yes, in general...a bit. They tend to be high in phosphorus so will leave an 'acid ash' when metabolised. Although some say the almond is alkalising, and Shelton believes the pistachio to be alkalising, but...controversial views, and consensus is that nut pH is neutral at best and probably slightly acidic. But that's no good reason to leave nuts out of the diet. After all, if most of the diet is alkalising, eg fruit, greens (many raw food teachers, for various reasons, recommend pairing nuts with greens) there really isn't going to be a problem, and the net effect of eating nuts in moderation, ie of obtaining all the nutrients they give us, is going to be good.

'Nuts are constipating.' Are they?

I have never been constipated (well, bar the occasional day, eg when travelling across the world) since going raw three years ago; I 'go' at least twice a day. So, as a regular nut eater, I have to conclude that nuts are not 'constipating'.

'Nuts are difficult to digest. Are they?'

Some people do have difficulties digesting nuts, it's true. But some of those people seem to assume that everyone does. The fact is, those of us who eat nuts regularly don't have problems digesting them. (Else we wouldn't be eating them, I can assure you.)

Some tips:

1. Don't eat nuts in the industrial, and unnatural, quantities required by some raw food recipes. My rule of thumb is not to eat more shelled nuts than we'd eat if we had to hand-crack them all ourself.

2. Nuts bought from shops will have been dried. Nuts are low on water in the first place, so when dried are very dry! That can cause discomfort when eating. It can help to soak dried nuts for a few hours to rehydrate them, so they're a little nearer to the state they were when they fell from the tree.

3. The longer we chew them (masticate!), the more hydrated they will be, the more ready for digestion they will be, and the less likely they are to sit in our stomachs like bricks.

4. Eat them slowly. This is where buying in-shell nuts scores - hand-cracking each nut and making sure we finish eating one nut before the next goes in (take your own advice please, Debbie) will slow us down a bit!

5. Don't eat nuts with fruit, and, ideally, don't eat fruit until at least a few hours after your nut-eating. This is because...fruit digests very quickly, and, sure, nuts take a little longer. If we eat fruit with or on top of nuts, the fruit will want to exit quickly, but its exit will be blocked by the nuts. While the fruit's hanging round, it will ferment...gas, football tummy, maybe pain...

(The classic raw food restaurant fruit & nut pie, where large quantities of nuts (sometimes not even soaked, and sometimes not even raw) are mixed with fruit, may well, as per 1, 2 and 5 above, cause 'digestive problems', and if we're not attending to our chewing and bolting our food because we're busy yakking with other raw fooders, 3 and 4 will apply as well and...we'll feel very uncomfortable a few hours later and maybe the next day too...but - it's really not the fault of the nuts per se!)

Some raw fooders claim that the reason their bodies have problems with nuts is because their digestive systems are particularly 'clean'/'responsive'.

Here's a different spin on that. It's a bit controversial, and I know some people are going to hate it, but it's interesting and I feel worth considering.

Virginia Vetrano: 'Nuts are digestible. Only those with impaired digestive systems have trouble with nuts.' (Oo-er!!)

This is the gist of it: to digest dense protein foods such as nuts, the stomach needs to produce hydrochloric acid (HCl). Now, in people with digestive problems, HCl may well be lacking, hence they will find nuts difficult to digest. Vetrano believes that Natural Hygienist T C Fry made this error. He had digestive troubles prior to embarking on a Hygienic diet, and, when he then encountered problems with nuts, blamed the nuts. He therefore ate no nuts, and, in Vetrano's opinion, his health would have been better if he'd included this extra protein in his diet to meet the extraordinary health challenges he faced from a past life of digestive abuse coupled with a very stressful lifestyle.

And therefore is it not possible that those raw fooders who are healthy but then remove nuts and seeds from their diet may then, on the rare occasions they do have them, encounter problems digesting nuts because they rarely eat them? The stomach generates enough HCl to meet the body's needs, and it may well be that, over time, if nuts are never eaten, it will produce less HCl, therefore reducing its ability to digest them efficiently. Just my tentative hypothesis.
But Vetrano's advice to health seekers having problems with nuts seems to support this. She recommends building up gradually, by having very small portions, eating nuts twice a day instead of all at once, and chewing so well 'that the mixture of nuts and saliva is almost as thin as water. That way you will be sure that lingual lipase, the fat-digesting enzyme secreted by the glands of the tongue, is extra plentiful.'

'Nuts encourage 'binge-eating'. Do they?

Most of us, even when raw for some time, eat for emotional reasons at times. We may feel stressed one day and our psyches pull us back to days when we 'comforted' ourselves by shovelling in a bag of (cooked) peanuts, cashews, whatever - fast - so we overeat on nuts, our minds overriding our bodies, ignoring the 'I've had sufficient' signals. This is where only eating in-shell nuts can help. Shelling nuts takes time and effort, and we're far less likely to overeat if we have to shell them ourselves.

Although, I would suggest that depriving ourselves of nuts (and fat in general) can actually lead to 'binge-eating'! I've found that eating all the raw fat I fancy (usually at least 15% of my diet by calories) means that I don't binge-eat on nuts. When last year I tried limiting my fat to less than 10% I had significant cravings that did lead to binge-eating on occasions. Some people I know do very well on 10% fat or less. Me, I'm happy and healthy on a little more.

'Most of the nuts sold in the UK are rancid. Are they?'

If they haven't just fallen from the tree, perhaps, technically, they could be classed as 'rancid', but only in the same way that any food that hasn't just been pulled up from the soil or picked from a tree isn't as fresh as it could be.

Rancidity is caused by hydrolysis (exposure to water) or oxidation (exposure to air). In-shell nuts are protected to some extent by their shells. Shelled nuts are dried before sale (see Pt 2 for more details on this) to reduce water content and are then specially packed to reduce oxygen (eg vacuum/nitrogen packing).

Now, cooked people can be duped into eating all sorts of things that aren't good, especially when they're highly seasoned and/or covered in sauce, but, when we've been raw for a while, and only eating whole raw foods, I am sure that we can trust our tastebuds and sense of smell to tell us when something shouldn't be eaten.

If ever in your life, cooked or raw, you've smelt oil that's been in the cupboard too long, you'll know 'rancid'! The only shelled nuts that I remember regularly detecting rancidity in were shelled macadamias at the start of my raw life (when I didn't realise they were actually cooked.) Nowadays I do occasionally find a rancid nut amongst various nuts that I eat, but - no problem - I just stop chewing and remove it from my mouth.


Nuts are a concentrated source of protein. True, everything we eat contains amino-acids, from which our bodies build protein, but nuts are particularly high in the essential amino-acids.

They score highly on vitamins and minerals as well. Try inputting a few days' eating, without nuts and seeds (seeds are similar to nuts nutritionally), into a nutritional program such as Cron-o-Meter. Then repeat, adding 2-4 oz of nuts a day. Watch your Vitamin E, calcium, iron, zinc and selenium levels shoot up!

Just picking out three of my favourite nuts: almonds are particularly high in Vitamin E, calcium, copper, magnesium and zinc. Hazels are high in calcium. Walnuts are high in magnesium. All nuts are a good source of raw fats, and walnuts are particularly good for omega-3s, so are the raw vegan's very good friend!


The standard recommendation of Natural Hygienists and raw food teachers in general is to eat nuts in small quantities - how small varying by raw food dietary 'school of thought'. They do taste delicious, and I know that sometimes it's hard not to wolf them down. As well as buying in-shell, do eat fruit and vegetables in sufficient quantity so you're not tempted to 'fill up' with nuts.

For me, nuts are an integral part of my diet, but not a major part (that starring role goes to fruit). And, if 'instinctive eating' is operating correctly, we're not going to be drawn to eating nuts all the time (not even squirrels do that). But, sometimes minds overrule bodies...I remember raw food promoter Karen Knowler telling the tale of a truck driver who, on going raw, decided to eat 'nothing but nuts', and ended up with kidney problems. Karen on quantities: 'in nature they grow in shells and it takes a long time and a lot of manual effort to shell them one by one (which we would do naturally). I don't think it's a coincidence that nature is set up this way. It knows that these 'little treasures' are PACKED with nutrition and potential and we just don't need many to be healthy.' Beautifully put.

Nuts - delicious. Nuts - are digestible. Nuts - a good food for human beings. So, if you've been told that nuts aren't invited to the raw food party, please put that out the window, and crack open some hazelnuts, or some brazils? BUT do make sure they're raw.

And that I will be discussing in Pt 2.