Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Six Nuts

In spite of what you may think, nuts are good for your health. They help lower cholesterol levels, they're good for the heart as they are rich in beneficial poly and monounsaturated oils, they prevent constipation, piles and varicose veins, and they're especially protective against breast and prostate cancers.
As a bonus they're good for male fertility too.

From the most ancient times nuts have been part of Man's staple diet throughout the world. But today they've been largely relegated to a high-salt, high-fat nibble. And what a tragic waste of one of nature's most abundant storehouses of energy and nutrients! Nuts are 'future foods,' as, just like seeds, they contain everything necessary for the next generation of plants. Because of their high oil content they turn rancid very quickly and rancid fats are unhealthy.

Nuts in their shells will keep for around four months; shelled nuts should be bought in small quantities, kept in airtight containers and used quickly.

Since they are also high in oxalic and phytic acid, which make it more difficult for the body to absorb the beneficial minerals, it's always best to eat some form of fruit or vegetable rich in vitamin C at the same time as the nuts to improve absorption. Cooking nuts in any way will get rid of the oxalic and phytic acids but it's much better to do it yourself than buying packets of the roasted varieties. Commercially they're usually cooked in other oils and then salted, which makes them a snack to be avoided at all costs. Dry roast them in a hot frying pan, tossing frequently, or on a baking tray in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes. Chopped or ground and added to recipes during cooking does destroy some of the B vitamins, but all the other nutrients remain intact.


The two varieties are Sweet Almonds and Bitter Almonds, but the most commonly eaten are the Sweet ones. Bitter almonds are mostly used to make almond oil. They are rich in protein, fat and vital minerals like zinc, magnesium, potassium and iron, as well as some B vitamins.

Of all nuts, almonds contain the most calcium, 100 grams provide more than a quarter of your day's needs. The same amount contains over a third of the protein you need each day - weight for weight, they supply a third more than eggs. You'll also get a day's dose of magnesium and more vitamin E than you need.

Almond Milk is a traditional food for convalescence as it's both sustaining and soothing. Soak 50g of whole almonds in tepid water then skin them; pound them - you can do this in a food processor - with some of a litre of water. Add the paste to the rest of the water, stir in a tablespoonful of honey, strain through muslin. The result is a protein and nutrient rich drink which tastes great and is easily digested. It's ideal after any acute illness, infection or operation and is light enough to tempt even the most jaded palate.


These grow in tropical South America, most famously in the Brazilian Rainforest, where I've stood under these magnificent trees that can grow up to 200 feet. Brazil nuts are high in fat - mostly the healthy poly and monounsaturated varieties - and so go rancid very quickly. Buy only what you need for current use, and only from a reputable supplier with a rapid turnover. They are one of the richest of all sources of the essential mineral selenium, which is so deficient in the British diet. This vital mineral protects men against prostate cancer and women against breast cancer, it's also a vital nutrient to ensure a healthy heart. Unfortunately the average amount in our daily diet is now only 30 micrograms and the minimum we need is 70. Three or four each day will give you all you need.

Surprisingly Brazil nuts are also a good source of iodine, essential for proper working of your thyroid gland, which controls the body's metabolic rate. Another mineral frequently deficient in the average diet and though the richest sources are sea fish and edible seaweeds, 100 grams of brazil nuts give you 10 percent of your daily requirement.


It's always seemed a shame to me that chestnuts only ever seem to end up inside a turkey or burning your fingers at Christmas. They're wonderfully nutritious and we should take a leaf out of our European neighbours' cookery books and make much wider use of them.

You can buy these wonderful nuts with or without their shells, fresh or dried, ground into meal and even canned. They are natives of southern Europe, parts of Asia and North Africa, but grow well in the US. They produce poor crops when grown in Britain and must not be confused with the poisonous horse chestnut used in herbal medicine. Chestnuts must be cooked before eating, in the UK traditionally roasted on an open fire, but they can also be used in sweet and savoury dishes, cooked with vegetables, in soups or used as the traditional turkey stuffing.

Dried and ground into flour they are excellent for people with coeliac disease or any form of gluten intolerance as they are gluten free. Chestnuts are much lower in calories than other nuts because they contain far less fat, but they are also lower in protein. They do supply some vitamin E, potassium and vitamin B6, making them ideal for women with PMS. They're a good source of fibre, 100 grams contain a quarter of your daily need, and the ideal nut for anyone with constipation, high blood pressure, cholesterol or heart disease.


These little gems grow widely all around the Mediterranean and particularly well in the English county of Kent. An excellent source of protein, supplying 25 percent of a day's dose per 100 grams. The same amount contains a third of the fibre you need each day, a quarter of the iron, a quarter of the zinc, and more than half the magnesium the body needs. They're so rich in vitamin E that 100g contain more of this vital vitamin than your body needs for a whole week. Hazelnuts also contain hardly any sodium, making them very low in salt so the ideal snack for anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease. They're good eaten on their own, used in cooking and particularly delicious turned into hazelnut butter which you can do in a coffee mill or the small attachment on a food processor. This will keep for a week as long it's covered and refrigerated.


This is really a legume rather than a nut which started life in South America. They're extremely nutritious whether eaten raw or dry roasted, but not so healthy when salted. You can eat them straight from the shell and use them in both sweet and savoury recipes. They're extremely high in protein, 100g providing nearly half a day's requirements and comparatively low in fat. They're a good source of fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc, an excellent source of vitamin E - four times your daily need in 100 grams - and a valuable source of iodine.

Peanut sauces, so popular in far Eastern cookery, are a valuable nutritional addition to staple dishes like rice and vegetables, and go extremely well with fish, poultry and lamb dishes. They're used commercially to make peanut butter - better without salt. Try Whole Earth Organic Peanut Butter which is made without any artificial additives. You can also make your own in the coffee mill, food processor and even in the more expensive type of juice machines.


Different varieties grow in North America and the Middle East and were introduced to Europe by the Romans who valued them very highly. They've been a nutritious delicacy for many centuries and wet walnuts, eaten immediately after picking and before the shells have dried out, are a great treat. If you've never tried them, look out for them in good food stores as they have a totally different texture and flavour to the dried ones.

But whether eaten freshly shelled as they are, chopped into cakes or biscuits, pickled or pressed into oil, which is terrific with salads, walnuts are healthy. Low in saturated fat, high in poly and monounsaturates, they provide protein, a little zinc, vitamin E and useful quantities of folic acid. They're an excellent source of iron and also contain reasonable amounts of fibre. They're very low in sodium which together with their valuable vitamin E content makes them good for anyone with high blood pressure.


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