In recent years, nutrition experts have been increasingly vocal about the health benefits of nuts and seeds. As a result, many of us have taken to carrying a handful of almonds in our pockets to snack on throughout the day or sprinkling hemp hearts on our cereal in the morning.
Filling, satisfyingly crunchy and incredibly good for you, nuts and seeds may just be the ideal foods when it comes to both taste and nutrition.
According to Jennifer Black, a dietitian with Alberta Health Services CancerControl, nuts and seeds, as a group, have four major things going for them: they’re full of fibre, they contain plant-based protein, they have a variety of vitamins and minerals, and they’re packed with poly- and monounsaturated fats, which are the heart-healthy fats that help to lower cholesterol and inflammation. Dietitians recommend replacing at least some of the animal-based proteins that we eat with plant-based alternatives, and incorporating nuts and seeds into your weekly diet is an easy way to accomplish that.
The “nuts and seeds” category encompasses a fairly wide range of foods — spanning from common peanuts to ultra-trendy chia seeds — but Black says they’re all beneficial. Since each nut and seed has a different nutritional profile, however, it is important to mix things up.
“All nuts and seeds are great for us, and are really healthy,” Black says. “But, as with all foods, we go for moderation and variety. Walnuts, for example, are known for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, whereas almonds are known for their calcium and vitamin E.”
When trying to incorporate nuts and seeds into your daily routine, the trick is to find textures and flavours you prefer, then to get creative. Chopped nuts and larger seeds, for example, can be baked into muffins, thrown into homemade granola, or eaten on their own as a snack. Flax seeds need to be ground for the nutrients to be absorbed and, once in powder form, they can be incorporated into soups, smoothies or just about anything else for an extra dose of nutrition. For convenience and a different texture, nut and seed butters and oils are also a good choice, though the oils lack the fibre benefits found in whole or ground nuts and seeds.
Black suggests limiting salted or seasoned nuts and seeds that pack a lot of sodium. She also points out that the high caloric content can result in unwanted weight gain for individuals looking to maintain or achieve a healthy weight. Still, in general, nuts and seeds are recommended for both the general population and for those undergoing cancer treatment or focusing on cancer prevention.
So, spread that natural almond butter on your toast and make a batch of chia seed pudding — it really is as good for you as it is delicious.
More on healthy fats with Jennifer Black
Jennifer Black is a CancerControl dietitian with Alberta Health Services, based out of the Holy Cross Centre in Calgary. Here, she shares more insights on the benefits of healthy fats.
Are nuts and seeds something that you specifically recommend for people undergoing cancer treatment?
Absolutely — they’re such a concentrated source of fat calories. There are so many side effects of treatment that cause people with cancer to eat fewer calories, or they may have unintentional weight loss as a side effect of the disease, so they need to add more calorie-dense foods.
Are there other specific benefits from nuts and seeds for people with cancer?
Nuts and seeds contain nutrients and phytochemicals that have been shown to offer cancer-protective actions. So, for anyone who is looking to prevent cancer, incorporating nuts and seeds into your diets can help. And if you actively have cancer, it can also reduce the risk of recurrence.
How can those in treatment add more nuts and seeds to their diets?
I always encourage people to make energy balls, which are a whole lot of nuts and seeds held together with a nut butter of their choice. That’s something you can make a big batch of ahead of time and keep in the freezer for quick, easy calorie-dense snacks. Another tip is to use a coffee grinder or blender to grind nuts to a powder. Then just sprinkle a couple of tablespoons in your cereal or into muffins or cookies to add in some nutrition.
Recipe: Almond and Pumpkin Seed Energy Balls
(Loaded with healthy fats!)
These healthy, nut-packed snacks require no baking or cooking! Feel free to use other nut butters and nuts or seeds to create new combinations.
1 1/4 cups large flake rolled oats 1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds 1/4 cup chopped almonds 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut 2 tbsp ground flax seeds 1/2 cup almond butter 1/3 cup honey 1 tsp vanilla extract 1/4 tsp salt
In a large bowl, stir together the oats, pumpkin seeds, chopped almonds, coconut and ground flax seeds. Add the almond butter, honey, vanilla extract and salt and stir until the mixture is uniformly moist and sticky. Check the consistency of the mixture — it should hold together loosely when squeezed into a ball. If it’s too wet, add some more oats; if it’s too dry, add some more almond butter. Once the consistency is right, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Take the mixture out of the fridge and form it into balls — any size will work, but a 1-inch diameter is standard. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in the freezer for up to three months. Makes approximately 18 1-inch balls.