Nuts are one of the healthiest food group ever known to man. Besides being a source of protein and healthy fats, nuts are rich in fiber and taste great. However, not all nuts are created equal, while some contain a high amount of nutrients others do not. Nutrition experts often recommend nuts for healthy living, but lately, there's been a shift of attention from the benefits of nuts to how nuts are being processed.
Almond Salmonella Crisis
According to a 2007 report, the products of an almond grower in California lead to an outbreak of Salmonella in Canada. Almond growers in the US were then instructed to treat their almonds by either exposing them to heat or fumigating them with propylene oxide gas to prevent a further outbreak of this infection. Heat treated almonds are sold as organic while those fumigated with propylene oxide gas are not termed as organic.
Unfortunately, these methods of treatment reduce the life-enhancing properties of the once nutritious almond. It is worthy of note that Propylene oxide has been banned in some countries due to its hazardous nature. Propylene oxide is known to irritate and has carcinogenic properties. What this means is that consumers of PPO treated almonds are exposed to toxic chemicals that can endanger their health.
Nut Roasting Process
Another type of nut available to consumers are roasted nuts. The reality though is that roasted nuts are not actually roasted instead they are fried with vegetable oil and salt. Note that there are two major types of roasting: dry and oil roasting. In dry roasting, the nuts do not have to be fried with oil. You can simply roast them in a frying pan or an oven. But with oil roasting, the nuts must be fried with oil.
Often times, processors and growers of nuts find it more convenient to fry nuts because just about any vegetable oil can be used whether healthy or not, the nuts do not have to be fresh, and fried salty, crunchy foods always sell. Once a nutritious, healthy food like nuts are fried, it becomes unhealthy.
Studies have shown that light steaming, blanching and roasting can kill harmful bacteria like salmonella and aflatoxins in nuts. But roasting between temperatures of 140 to 180°C diminishes levels of alpha-tocopherol, the most active form of vitamin E. Roasting also causes the accelerated formation of dangerous chemicals known as acrylamides. Acrylamides have carcinogenic properties and can be harmful to animals when consumed in high doses. Although there are only a few studies on its effect on humans, some researchers suggest that it can be harmful to the human health as well.
True, roasting improves the texture and taste of nuts, what many consumers do not know is that the process changes the structure and the chemical composition of the nuts. Nuts are rich in healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats contribute tremendously to the high nutritional value of nuts. They can lower blood cholesterol and have the ability to protect consumers against heart diseases.
However, when polyunsaturated fats are exposed to high temperature and heat, the healthy fats are destroyed, and they become more susceptible to oxidation. Oxidation allows for the formation of harmful free radicals which can destroy your cells. When nuts are roasted, the polyunsaturated fats can easily become oxidized during storage, thereby reducing their shelf life.
Furthermore, during the roasting process, some nutrients are lost. Nuts are loaded with phosphorus, Vitamin E, and antioxidants which serve to protect your cells against free radicals. However, some of these nutrients cannot withstand heat and are therefore lost during roasting. Keep in mind that the extent of the loss is not the same in all nuts. While nuts like almonds and walnuts record a higher loss of vitamin during the roasting process, hazelnut shows lower loss of vitamin. Thiamine levels are also said to drop during roasting.
Nuts are known to contain little sodium. If you are trying to cut down on your sodium intake, you may want to stay clear of roasted nuts. This is because commercial manufacturers often use salt to preserve their nuts as well as make it tasty. People suffering from diseases such as hypertension are advised against excessive salt intake.
How can you ensure that you get the best out of your nuts? One way to do this is by pre-sprouting and dehydrating (activating) your nuts. Nut activation usually involves soaking in water and salt for some time and then dehydrating at a low temperature. Are there health benefits of consuming activated nuts? Absolutely yes!
While raw nuts contain a lot of nutrients, they also contain natural chemicals that make absorption of these nutrients difficult. Raw nuts contain harmful substances and bacteria that can adversely affect human health. Nuts have enzymes and other substances that prevent premature germination and protect the plant from insect infestation. Although substances like phytic acid perform a key role in the life of the plant, they can cause nutritional deficiencies if consumed in excess. Phytic acid in nuts can distort the body's ability to absorb nutrients like zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium. And if you eat lots of raw nuts, you may put additional pressure on your digestive system, leading to nausea, bloating and heaviness which causes discomfort. So what is the solution? Activate your nuts. Activated nuts like almonds, cashews or wild-harvested pili nuts are easily digestible as soaking breaks down the phytic acid and neutralizes the enzymes that make digestion and absorption problematic.
Knowing now how store-bought nuts are processed, you should invest some time in activating raw nuts on your own. Turn that healthy snacking into a truly better one for you and your loved ones.