Tag Archive | Nuts

Donna’s Top Ten Nutrient Dense “Super Foods”

What is “Nutrient Density” anyway?  Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients in a particular food for the given volume of that food, nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids, good quality protein or carbohydrate, and phytonutrients . So, for example, a handful of walnuts is a nutrient dense food choice because in a small handful, you will get a good amount of vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant), healthy fat and concentrated energy.

There are some foods that are nutrient dense and calorie dense, and there are others that are nutrient dense and low in calories. I had a difficult time narrowing all the nutrient-dense foods there are into one short list of ten. Unfortunately I left numerous amazing foods off this list.  Depending on your personal nutritional goals, you may want to add some of my top ten super foods to your eating plan! Remember though; don’t eat foods merely for their nutritional value if you don’t like them! Only eat foods that you find palatable and pleasurable.

Dried Fruit: There are many types of dried fruits on the market. You can try dried berries, apricots, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries and even tropical fruits like papaya, mango, and pineapple. You can give yourself a quick energy boost by eating dried fruits because they have less volume than their fresh equivalent and they are portable and non-perishable. They are packed with vitamins and minerals just like their fresh counterparts.

Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats that can be a healthy addition to your diet. Macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all good for you, offer a variety of flavors and can be eaten in a variety of ways. You can eat them by the handful or try nut butters made from them. Spread some apple slices or banana slices with nut butters for a nutrient-dense and energy-dense snack or make a trail mix with your favorite nuts and dried fruit. Try them in oatmeal or yogurt, on top of ice cream or a salad. Eat them raw or toasted!

Greek Yogurt: There are so many yogurts on the market, it’s hard to choose between them all. My favorite by far, is Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is packed with protein, sometimes double or triple the amount of protein in a regular yogurt. In a 4 to 8 ounce container you can get as much as 15 to 20 grams of protein. That’s almost as much as a 3 ounce piece of chicken! My favorite brands are Chobani and Fage. You can get these brands in plain as well as several delicious flavors.

Quinoa: Although not a common item in most people’s homes, quinoa is a protein-rich seed that has a fluffy but slightly crunchy texture and a slightly nutty flavor when it’s cooked. It looks like a grain, but it is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It is an ancient “grain”, once  called the “gold of the Incas” because it increased the stamina of their warriors. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. 

Garbanzo Beans (chick peas): Even though legumes are known for their fiber, most people do not know how helpful the fiber in garbanzo beans can actually be for supporting digestive tract function. Garbanzos contain about 12 grams of fiber per cup. This type of fiber can help you regulate your blood sugar and will help lower your risk of intestinal issues. You can eat garbanzo beans plain, in soups or salads, or in the form of hummus.

Avocado:  Did you know that the avocado is often called the “alligator pear” because of its shape and the leather-like appearance of its skin? Avocados contain a great source of healthy fat as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also considered an anti-inflammatory food. You can enjoy them cut up in salads, as an addition to sandwiches or made into guacamole. Can you answer this question: Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?

Spinach: I feel stronger every time I eat a fresh bowl of raw or cooked spinach! There have been more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds identified in spinach that act as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. The vitamin K in spinach helps prevent the breakdown of bones. Spinach contains vitamin C and iron, as well as a host of other nutrients. You can mix spinach with pasta or in soups, or you can make a spinach salad and add feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Oats: Oatmeal, granola, granola bars made from oats, tofu/oat burgers (my own recipe) are all great ways to enjoy this grain. Oats contain a special kind of fiber that lowers blood cholesterol. Oats also help regulate blood sugar so you can feel energized for a longer period of time without suffering a low blood sugar “crash”. During the winter months, I love a big bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and blueberries and when the weather gets warmer, I love yogurt with an oat-based granola and raisins!

Dark Chocolate: Who doesn’t like to enjoy a “melt-in-your-mouth” piece of chocolate? Did you know that dark chocolate is good for your brain and can improve your mood? It is good for your heart and it also contains antioxidants that can help reduce free-radical damage. Cocoa, in dark chocolate, can also reduce inflammation. You can eat is by itself or mix it into other types of foods. Dark chocolate chips are a great ingredient in lots of your favorite recipes. My favorite is dark chocolate chips mixed into banana walnut muffins!

Green Tea: Green tea is the least processed of all teas. It has the highest concentration of “phytonutrients” and the least caffeine of all teas. Green tea is rich in health-promoting flavonoids, which play a fundamental role in green tea’s anticancer and antioxidant effects. These flavonoids are potent free radical scavengers. You can find great tasting green teas in every supermarket and health food store. You can drink them hot or iced.

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LIPIDS!!!!!

Let’s talk about LIPIDS, a misunderstood group of molecules that are CRITICAL to the functioning of the human body and are an ESSENTIAL part of your diet!

Understanding the Functions of Lipids in the Body

There are many functions of lipids in the human body. Many people tend to place a negative association with the term “lipid”, simply because it brings to mind the word “fat”. This “essential” nutrient is crucial to the intricate functioning of the body. The term lipid applies to a group of molecular structures which includes fats and oils, fat-soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E, and K, sterols, fatty acids, and phospholipids. Let’s take a brief look at the major functions of lipids in the body.

 Storing Energy

An important role that lipids play in the human body is to store energy. It is no great secret that the body gets most of its energy from carbohydrates, but what many people don’t know is that if it weren’t for lipids, we would have to replenish our energy reserves after every hour spent being active! Lipids make it possible to make the most out of the carbohydrates we consume so we don’t have to “use or lose” that energy. So because of lipids, the body is able to store the energy produced by the foods we eat as sort of a “reserve tank”.

Also, during all those hours of the day that you are sleeping (and not eating), your body relies on whatever fuel you have stored up during your daytime eating as the fuel it depends on. Remember, your body needs to work 24 hours a day and you only eat while you are awake. Your heart, brain, liver, kidneys etc need to be FED all day and all night long. Also, if you exercise, the fuel your body wants to use after a brief period of time comes from the fuel that is stored in these cells. If you don’t store fuel in the fat cells, your body would inevitably rely on your muscle tissue as its fuel source. And, you don’t want that to be the case.

 Cell Membranes

One of the little known facts about lipids is that they’re responsible for the protection of each individual cell. This protection comes in the form of the cell membrane. The lipids form a protective barrier that keeps the important cellular information inside the cell while keeping destructive substances out. For instance, oxygen, glucose, enzymes, and hormones are allowed to enter through the membrane while harmful chemicals are not. All this is due to the wonderful lipid cell membrane.

 Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are known as fat-soluble vitamins because they are molecularly lipid-based. These vitamins are stored in the body’s fat tissues as well as the liver and are very important to the human body—hence the reason they are called “essential nutrients”.

Vitamin A improves eyesight. This vitamin helps our eyes to distinguish light and color, and a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to vision troubles—particularly at night time. As for vitamin D, it is essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. If it were not for vitamin D, our teeth and bones would never grow to become as strong as they should be. Vitamin D also helps to fight off autoimmune issues. Vitamin E is often associated with the health of hair, skin, and nails. It also plays an important role in other areas of the body. For instance, vitamin E can both protect against certain cancers as well as improve cardiovascular and circulation health. It is a powerful “antioxidant” and as such, it boosts the immune system. It can also lower cholesterol levels. Vitamin K is necessary for liver health and also helps the blood to clot. Every time someone gets a scrape or cut, vitamin K helps the blood clot, allowing the wound to seal up and heal.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is the ingredient that helps you make your male and female hormones. It helps separate the boys from the girls. (It is also a part of all the cell membranes.) It is an ingredient in bile (the stuff that helps you digest fats and help you get rid of waste products). It helps make a covering called the “myelin sheath” that surrounds and protects your nerves and brain cells.

Cholesterol comes in two basic forms: high density lipoprotein and low density lipoprotein, or HDL and LDL cholesterol (“good” and “bad” cholesterol). HDL (“good”) cholesterol is vital to the body as it makes those hormones and it transports the LDL cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and excreted from the body.  This type of “good” cholesterol is found in whole grain, fish, and nuts, and increasing these foods can actually lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Shock Absorption

A layer of fat surrounding the vital internal organs is essential as a protective mechanism against injury.

 Now let’s look at the function of lipids in the foods we eat.

  • Lipids contain more calories (gram for gram) than carbohydrate or protein, which makes them a “nutrient dense” food.
  • Lipids in food help create satiety which why you feel more satisfied and full after a meal containing lipids.
  • Some of the ESSENTIAL nutrients (essential fatty acids like omega-3s) are soluble in lipids and therefore primarily found in lipid-containing foods.
  • Essential fatty acids found in lipids-containing foods have amazing functions like improving heart health, brain health, lowering levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides, defending against cancer, reducing inflammation in arthritis and asthma sufferers.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are primarily found in lipid-containing foods.
  • Lipids contribute to the aroma and flavor of food.

 

Some of the best foods that contain valuable lipids are:

  • Nuts and seeds – walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds
  • Certain fish – salmon, mackerel, tuna
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Oils such as olive oil, peanut oil, walnut oil, sunflower oil, canola oil
  • Soy foods

So, the next time you find yourself wondering why you need lipids, aka “fats”, in your daily diet, remember that fat is a NUTRIENT. Without it or without enough of it, all these jobs won’t get done. Human life would cease without these amazing molecules!

Give your body the nutrient that makes up your cell membranes, protects your heart and brain, provides you with essential vitamins and essential fatty acids, provides a valuable energy source when you sleep and exercise, helps you make your male and female hormones, helps make food taste and smell good, promotes satiety, and provides great nutrient density. Whew!!!!  What an amazing nutrient!

After writing this post, I think I’ll go make myself a fabulous snack of dark chocolate Dove hearts dipped in peanut butter!

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Nuts!

Who could imagine that these little bite-sized treasures could be such incredible powerhouses for your body? A handful of these gems provide the body with significant amounts of essential nutrients! They can be eaten with meals or snacks in many different ways. They are quite a versatile food.

Nuts provide protein, fiber, amazing high quality healthy fat, vitamins, and minerals, and phytonutrients. Wow! There’s a lot of goodness in such a small package. Not many foods can say that! They are not only super nutritious but satisfying and packed full of flavor. Everyone can enjoy nuts in their diet (unless they are allergic). You can eat an ounce or two of nuts per day and get all the benefits!

Nuts are so good though, that it’s sometimes easy to eat more of them then you set out to. They can be a challenging food for some people. So, try to have them in comfortable amounts at times when you feel “safe”. Try not to eat them directly out of the jar or container because it may be too difficult to determine how much you have eaten. That could be challenging for you.

Before we discuss the many benefits of nuts, let’s clear up a few myths.

  1. Nuts are NOT FATTENING!
  2. There is no such thing as a fattening food.
  3. Eating fat does not make you fat!

Remember once again that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Nut calories are no more or less “powerful” in terms of weight than calories coming from broccoli. Weight gain results from consuming more calories than the body needs, over a sustained period of time. Weight loss comes from consuming a deficiency of calories over a sustained period of time.

Nut Facts:

  • Nuts are a good source of non-animal protein
  • The unsaturated fat in nuts can lower your “bad” cholesterol
  • The soluble fiber acts like little scrub brushes to help lower total cholesterol in your blood
  • Nuts have good “nutrient density” – more nutrition per bite than some less nutritious foods
  • Nuts can improve heart health because of the monounsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids
  • Their taste and textures are satisfying which enables them to be eaten in a wide variety of ways
  • The high levels of Vitamin E and phytonutrients help you fight cancers and heart disease
  • They are rich in essential minerals

You may wonder “which nuts are best?” The nutrient ratio differs slightly among the different nuts, so eating a variety is the best way to obtain all the benefits that they offer!

Almonds

  • Have the antioxidant power of Vitamin E
  • Contain a natural form of the same drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
  • Good source of magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron
  • Very versatile – taste great in oatmeal and yogurt or can be made into almond butter and eaten with jelly in a sandwich

Cashews

  • Have high levels of essential minerals—iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese
  • A great addition to Asian salads or made into cashew butter

Hazelnuts

  • A powerful source of vitamin E and phytonutrients, associated with building a strong immune system
  • Also called “filberts”
  • Taste great in biscotti or pancakes

Peanuts

  • Highest protein content of any nut, especially satisfying and beneficial for children, vegetarians, and those with higher protein needs
  • Rich in essential minerals, such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc
  • Rich in B vitamins and phytonutrients
  • Make a great trail mix, especially when combined with dried fruit and m&m’s

Pecans

  • Have more antioxidants than any other nut, and are used in the prevention of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease
  • Taste great candied and tossed in a salad with lettuce, pears and goat cheese

Walnuts

  • A great source of alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid
  • Contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut
  • Proven as beneficial for lowering total and LDL blood cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Delicious in chicken salad, other salads, hot cereal, trail mixes, banana bread, brownies and oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies

Brazil nuts

  • Extremely high in the mineral selenium which helps the immune system fight viruses
  • May help to prevent cancer and heart disease
  • Eating just two gives you all the selenium you need in a day

Pistachios

  • Contain significant amounts of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids have been linked to reduced risk of developing macular degeneration, a condition that results in blindness
  • Can be added to muffins, pancakes, or oatmeal

You can choose nuts that are raw, dry roasted, roasted in oil, salted, honey roasted, spiced, candied, chocolate covered. Try out different types of nut butters (peanut, cashew, almond) or oils made from nuts (walnut oil, peanut oil).

Be adventurous with your nuts! Try them in creative ways.

  • Tossed in salads
  • On top of pasta
  • Mixed in chicken salad, stir-fry dishes or other entrees
  • Blended in yogurt with granola and fruit
  • In a trail mix
  • Baked in breads
  • Tossed in hot cereals

There are at least 50 different types of nuts. I bet you can’t name all of them! I know I can’t. So, maybe you could pick a few types and give them a try!

Oh…and by the way, peanuts aren’t really nuts. They are legumes (like beans). Coconuts aren’t really nuts. They are fruit.

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