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.'
IS IT NATURAL TO EAT NUTS?
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.)
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.
THE 'VERITABLE STOREHOUSE' OF NUTRIENTS!
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!
SO, DO ENJOY NUTS - IN MODERATION, WITH CAVEATS.
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.