Nuts and seeds may not be the fanciest foods around, but their hard exteriors hide extraordinary super-nutrient-powers buried underneath! They can help improve digestion, increase energy levels, boost your brain, reduce your risk of developing heart disease, and so much more. Here’s a list of 10 especially nutritious nuts and seeds to snack on this summer, along with recipe suggestions and information on the individual health benefits of each one.
These nutrient-packed nuts grow on a tree (botanically speaking they are seeds, not nuts, and are related to peaches and plums) and are believed to have originated in China and Central Asia, after which they soon spread to the Mediterranean region. They were referenced in both Ancient Egyptian and Roman culture, and were given to newlywed Roman couples as a sign of fertility. In the 1700s they were brought to California by the Spaniards, where they are now part of a thriving almond industry. Nutritionally speaking, almonds are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, and several other nutrients. They may also help lower LDL (low-density lipids) cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. They make a perfectly portable snack, whether roasted, raw, chopped, or ground into some delicious almond butter.
For recipe ideas, whip up a batch of these flavorful Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Almonds, or, for a decadent dessert, try out this Mocha Caramel Ice Cream with Almonds and Dark Chocolate Chunks.
If you take a close look at this knobby nut (as in the above photo), you’ll see that it closely resembles the cerebral cortex of the brain! Mother Nature works in mysterious ways, given that this nut is well-known for contributing to brain health. Walnuts date to as far back as 7000 B.C., and were called Juglans regia (“Jupiter’s royal acorn”) by the Ancient Romans. There are two main varieties of walnuts: The Persian (or English) walnut, which originated in Persia, and the black walnut, which is native to United States. However, the black walnut is not commercially produced, which means that most walnuts you buy in the store will be Persian walnuts. Walnuts are an excellent source of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which assist in the creation of new neurons in the brain, and also may work as a mood booster. They also improve cardiovascular health and help cleanse the digestive system due to their high fiber content.
For recipe ideas, check out these Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Walnuts, Dates, and Caramelized Onions, or go to the sweet side of life with this Butterscotch Pudding With Candied Walnuts. Either way, your brain, heart, and taste buds will thank you!
3. Sunflower Seeds
These tasty seeds are a staple snack for long car drives, baseball players, or (if you’re a sci-fi fan) Agent Fox Mulder from The X-Files! The sunflower plant was cultivated by Native American tribes around 3000 BC, and the seeds and oil were used for a variety of purposes, both culinary and medicinally. It was later introduced to Europe, most likely by Spaniards, and became popular for the oil that was extracted from the seeds and was relatively stable compared to other cooking oils. Sunflower seeds, besides being fun (or perhaps frustrating!) to crack, are an excellent source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant. Just a quarter-cup of sunflower seeds contains about 80% of the DRA of vitamin E, as well as a hefty dose of healthy fats and fiber.
4. Brazil Nuts
These nuts come from the Bertholletia excelsa tree, which is native to the Amazon rainforest, and can live for more than 500 years. The outer casing of the nut is so hard that only one animal, the agouti (a type of rodent) is capable of cracking it–meaning that humans have to use axes or machetes just to get to the treasure inside! Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, a mineral that can help boost mood, prevent depression, and fight inflammation in the body. They also contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which, in addition to combating inflammation, may help boost brain health. These benefits, in addition to their healthy monounsaturated fats, make Brazil nuts an ideal addition to your summer snack list.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
These crunchy treats are a super-healthy snack year-round, not just in the fall when pumpkins are abundant! Of course, if you’re feeling creative and would like to roast and season your own pumpkin/squash seeds at home, instead of buying them in the store, check out this article. The oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds were found by archaeologists in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico, and are believed to have originated in Central America more than 7,000 years ago. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium and zinc, two vital minerals, and also contain antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They may also help protect against certain types of cancer.
For recipe ideas, try making a Baked Sweet Potato With Pesto Pasta, Tomatoes, and Pumpkin Seeds, or whip up some hearty Power Bread With Sunflower Seeds, Flax Seeds, Sesame Seeds, and Pumpkin Seeds.
Perhaps best known for their crucial rule in a certain sugary-sweet pie, pecans are native to North American and were a staple food for many Native Americans–in fact, the word pecan comes from the word “pacane,” used by the Algonquin tribe to signify a nut that must be cracked by a stone. Commercial production of pecans in America began in the late 1800s, and New Orleans became a hub for this market. Pecans are chock-full of flavonoids, a specific type of antioxidant that may help prevent certain chronic diseases such as diabetes. They are also rich in magnesium, which has anti-inflammatory benefits, and are full of heart-healthy fats and fiber.
For recipe ideas, try out this delicious Wild Rice Pilaf With Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans, packed with fiber and antioxidants. Or, for a decadent yet simple summery dessert, make some Raw Ice Cream Tarts With Chocolate Sauce and Pecans.
8. Sesame Seeds
Not just for a hamburger bun topper, sesame seeds are unique addition to this list that play an important role in the cuisine of numerous countries. They are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, and were prized crops in both Babylon and Assyria more than 4,000 years ago. There are two colors of sesame seeds, black and white, and the oil extracted from the seeds is frequently used in several Asian cuisines due to its fragrant flavor and smell. They can also be ground into a paste called tahini, or sesame seed butter, which is a key ingredient in hummus. Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, a trace mineral that helps fight inflammation and relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. They also contain several other vital minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium.
For recipe ideas, check out this Healthy Sesame Mushroom, Tofu, and Asparagus Stir-Fry, or make a unique dessert offering with these Black Sesame Thumbprint Cookies.
These rich-flavored nuts are technically the seed of a tropical evergreen tree called Anacardium occidentale, which is native to Brazil, though cashews were also exported to India in the 1550’s. The cashew seed is surrounded by a shell that contains anacardic acid, a skin irritant related to urushiol, which is found in poison ivy. However, no need to panic–it is only the shell that is toxic! Once roasted or heated, as all commercially sold cashews have been (even the ones labeled “raw”), this nut is perfectly safe to eat. Cashews, similar to sesame seeds, are an excellent source of copper, and just 1/4 a cup contains roughly 30% of the DRA of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
These green-hued nuts come from a tree that is native to western Asia, and evidence suggests that they were consumed as early as 7,000 BC. In Persia (now called Iran), pistachios symbolized wealth and high status, and in later years they were introduced to countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. As pistachios grow, the shell naturally cracks open halfway, making it quick and easy to reach the nut inside! Pistachios are lower in fat and calories than most other nuts, and are an excellent source of vitamin B6, which assists in the formation of hemoglobin, a molecule that helps carry oxygen in red blood cells. They are also the only nut that contain a high amount of carotenoids, which help contribute to eye health.
For recipe suggestions, try out these Stuffed Mushrooms With Lemony Asparagus and Pistachios, or sample a unique dessert with these Nan-E Nokhodchi: Persian Chickpea Cookies With Cardamom and Pistachios.
If you’re looking for related articles, read about these 10 Reasons to Eat Brazil Nuts, or check out Forget Cow’s Milk! Here’s Why Seeds Are The Most Overlooked Sources of Calcium.
For more recipe ideas using these 10 super-healthy nuts and seeds, don’t forget to download the Food Monster App, which is available for Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based recipes, and subscribers gain access to new ones every day. Check it out!
Featured image source: Pixabay