My friend recently asked me “how do I educate myself about the best nuts to buy?” because she was having trouble finding helpful information. Research is one of the my favorite things to do, so I compiled some of the resources I found on this topic.
GOOD has a list of helpful tips:
- Know Before You Go: “Decide beforehand how you plan to use them so you get the best possible flavor. Raw and unsalted work best in culinary or DIY nut-based milk and cheese. Roasted, salted, and flavored almonds are great to keep on hand as a savory snack”
- Find Good Chemistry: “Buy organic almonds to avoid the GMO-based oils used for roasting and flavoring. Some styles have a ton of sugar, salt, and soy, so if you have the time to roast and season yourself, you can better control the ingredients and nutritional content.”
- Bulk Isn’t Always Better: “Unprocessed almonds last longer because the nutshell and brown hull protect the flesh of the nut from air, water, and light—all contributors to rancidity. The downside is that bulk nuts can be much pricier than their packaged counterparts[…] A foil-sealed container might be best if you’re not using them right away. You’ll know immediately when they’ve turned rancid: the odor is something akin to musty Play-Doh and the taste is undeniably sour and rank.”
- “These Nuts Are Making Me Thirsty!”: “To minimize your water waste, buying organic is the best way to go. It supports responsible farming practices.”
- Keep Your Nuts Closed: “The more processed almonds are (think slivered versus unshelled), the shorter their shelf life will be. Always store nuts in a dry, airtight container and stash them in the darkest, coolest cabinet you’ve got, because once they’ve been shelled, the clock starts ticking: up to six months for raw and around four months for chopped and roasted. Keep them in the refrigerator (or better yet, freeze ’em!) to increase their life span. If you’re set on raw almonds, but the process in (2) left you exhausted from just reading it, you can always buy them in the shell, which somewhat protects the nut during the brief pasteurization process.”
Keep in mind: raw nuts may not mean what you think…
According to NPR, most of the almonds U.S. are either heat-pasteurized or treated with a fumigant, which is misleading and can taint the flavor. “The processes, which have been required by law since 2007, are intended to prevent foodborne illness.” If they’re not steamed, many nuts must be fumigated with a chemical called propylene oxide, or PPO. According to this article, pasteurization doesn’t change the nutritional value.
Living Whole has a more in-depth explanation: “Almonds can be pasteurized with steam, high heat (roasting), blanching, or fumigation […]
- Steam pasteurization kills the living properties of an almond, breaks fat bonds and oxidizes these molecules into free radicals creating potentially harmful levels of acrylamide. Acrylamide (a byproduct of the amino acid asparagine) is a chemical known to cause cancer and reproductive harm.
- Fumigation involves a toxic, dangerous chemical called propylene oxide. This chemical was used as a racing fuel until it was banned for safety reasons. It’s now used in thermobaric weapons, polyurethane foam, and is sprayed on your “raw” almonds. Propylene oxide is not generally recognized as safe for human ingestion (GRAS) per the FDA and even the EU has banned its use. In fact, it is classified as a “probable human carcinogen.”
Are Pasteurized Nuts Good or Bad?
Healthy Blog has a detailed post about this. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Experts from the FDA and other relevant food quality control organizations state that the loss of nutritional content in pasteurized nuts is small and doesn’t outweigh the extra safety that comes from destroying dangerous bacteria and pathogens.”
- “PPO is a highly toxic and flammable compound that was used as a racing fuel before being banned for safety reasons”, so it may be wise to avoid it when you can.
- “Steam processing, on the other hand, is considered perfectly safe [because] studies indicate that the changes occurring during this time are insignificant and aren’t hazardous to human health.”
- “One effective method to determine if your nuts are truly raw is soaking them. Treated almonds cannot sprout, so they will only grow moldy in a few days. This is a big loss as soaking and sprouting nuts makes them release various beneficial chemicals.”
- Buy imported nuts is an option because “the regulations about the import of non-pasteurized nuts aren’t as strict, so you can find packaged, untreated kernels from Asia, Spain, and other regions. You must take note of the expiration date and study the label carefully. Even if they aren’t pasteurized, these products might be treated by different means to prolong shelf-life.”
Where To Buy High-Quality Nuts From
Buying directly from farmers, either at farmer’s markets or online, is a great option because you can ask questions or read up on them first. Online options include Bremner Farms, Blue Mountain Organics, Foods to Live, Goldmine, Nuts.com, and even Amazon (be sure to do a little research on each brand before buying from the latter). Terrasoul and Sunfood are brands I trust (and I’m using my affiliate link for those, so if you purchase I may receive monetary compensation).
Why Nuts (and Seeds) Are Good For Your Health
I’ve come across a lot of nutritional advice in health books that I’ve read and here are some pointers from the authors.
Superfuel: Ketogenic Keys to Unlock the Secrets of Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Great Health by James DiNicolantonio and Joseph Mercola
- “Nuts and seeds are high in omega-6, but when you consume them in their intact form, they’re naturally packaged with antioxidants that help protect against oxidation, not to mention also coming along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which the extracted oils don’t deliver. Since heat is one of the factors that damages fragile omega-6 and omega-3 fats, your best bet might be to consume raw nuts and seeds, if your stomach can handle it.”
- “Walnuts are high in LA and ALA, whereas almonds and hazelnuts are high in MUFA“
- “Walnuts also contain ALA, but they’re far higher in total omega-6 than omega-3, so don’t rely on walnuts as your main source of ALA.”
- “Peanuts (not a nut but a legume), Brazil nuts, and almonds, appear to have extremely high omega-6-to-3 ratios, keep in mind that polyunsaturated fat makes up less than half of their total fat, and it’s closer to only a third or less. Those nuts are higher in monounsaturated fat than polyunsaturated, so even though their omega-6-to-3 ratios are very high, the total amount of omega-6 you would get from them is less than what you’d get from consuming the same amount of sunflower seeds or pecans, which are higher in total omega-6 even though their ratios are lower.”
- “If you have insulin resistance or a related cardio-metabolic issue, we advise limiting consumption of high-omega-6 nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pine nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as these may contribute to higher insulin levels.”
Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal
- Almonds do contain substantial amounts of polyunsaturated fat, which is a fat that is easily oxidized. This is why I prefer to consume almonds, and all nuts, raw. However, for those who prefer roasted nuts, it may provide comfort to know that the fat in almonds remains relatively protected through the roasting process, a sign that the nuts also contain a high amount of antioxidants. Just be sure to go for dry roasted nuts, as “roasted” almost always means that they’ve actually been deep-fried in poor-quality vegetable oil!”
- Macadamias, Brazil nuts, and pistachios are equally excellent options.
- Pistachios contain more lutein and zeaxanthin (two carotenoids that can boost brain speed) than any other nut. They also contain resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect and enhance memory function.
Dr. Oz has done a number of interesting video segments on nuts, featuring reporters, investigators, nutritionists, and authors.
- What to Keep in Mind When Buying Packaged Nuts: Food investigator Ali Rosen and author Max Lugavere share how to buy healthy nuts. Plus, they explain how to spot processed ingredients. Find out how to give your nuts a flavor boost with the right herbs and seasonings.
- The Great Nut Debate: Are nuts healthy or not? Reporter Mark Schatzker reveals what the FDA is saying about this popular snack. Then, Schatzker faces off with nutritionist Dr. Kellyann Petrucci as she raises concerns about nuts.