Tuesday 6 March 2012

My week without nuts

First of all, before you get all “don’t you dare take my nuts from me, girl!”, let me start by ensuring you that I am not entirely anti-nut. I love them! They are my go-to for a healthy snack or tasty addition to an otherwise sub-par meal. So then – why did I cut these glorious little morsels out of my life for a week? Well, it was an experiment of sorts….

A while ago, I read an interesting article by Chris Kresser on the potential negative effects of nuts, namely their phytic acid content, which can bind to minerals (such as iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium) in the gut and prevent their absorption, hence leading to possible nutrient deficiencies. So I cut down my nut intake a little, but did not remove them entirely from my diet.
More recently, Emma Sgourakis wrote a blog on the perils of nuts, very similar to Chris’s. Now what I wanted to do was ignore them both and scream “They CLEARLY don’t know what they are talking about!!” but I didn’t, because they do. They are both very clever cats when it comes to nutrition and I respect their opinions. That and I checked out the studies they mention and they seem pretty legit.

So a week ago, Aaron and I decided to ditch the nuts and see if we noticed any difference. This was not an easy task, so we made a competition out of it (whoever breaks before a week loses) and we hid the nuts out of our sight. Did someone say addict? At least we weren't this bad:

The first couple of days were hard – what would we eat now? Well, it turns out there are a lot of options! Who’d have known!? Here’s a little run down of breakfasts:

  • Leftover dinners (lamb curry and beef mince)
  • Berries & Coconut extraordinaire without the nuts
  • Smoothie made with berries, banana, cinnamon, raw honey and goat’s milk kefir
  • Coconut pancakes with berries and chocolate sauce (definitely the highlight)

As you can see, we survived and in fact thrived on a variety of different meals!

In terms of how we felt, we both noticed our “digestion” (code word for poop) was significantly better. This may seem trivial to you, but do not underestimate the information you can obtain from what’s in the bowl (yes, we are a little odd). Consistency, shape, size and regularity can all be key indicators of how well you are digesting your food and therefore, how many nutrients you are actually getting into your body. You see, we need to remember that eating a food is not the same as absorbing the goodness. If your gut integrity is compromised, or if you are eating foods which may prevent absorption, chances are you are not actually reaping the benefits of the foods you put in your mouth.

So are we going to stay off nuts for good? No. But we are going to cut down substantially and we are going to try and only consume activated nuts, which have a lowered phytic acid content (more on this later). 

It is also important to understand that all whole foods have some sort of defense mechanism to protect them from consumption. That’s right vegetarians, just because they don’t have legs, claws or teeth doesn’t mean your vegies want to be eaten! We clearly cannot avoid all foods. That’s just idiotic. But we do want to minimise our intake by varying our diet and also weighing up the cost/benefit ratios. For example, yes nuts may have some anti-nutrients and the omega 6 content may be a little high, but if prepared properly and enjoyed in moderation they can be an extremely nutrient dense food:
  • High amounts of protein and good fats
  • Dietary fibre
  • Vitamins (such as folate, vit E, niacin, vit B6
  • Minerals (copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc)
  • Anti-oxidants
  • Studies also suggest intake is correlated with lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some cancers

On the other hand, if we take something like grains, the costs far outweigh the benefits:
  • Costs: High levels of anti-nutrients including phytates, lectins, gluten and saponins (more on these another time) which not only bind minerals and prevent nutrient absorption but also damage the intestinal lining and cause systemic (whole-body) inflammation, which can lead to many chronic diseases. 
  • Benefits: contain some vitamins, such as B vitamins, however these are required in higher amounts in order to digest the very grains eaten (less grains eaten = less extra B vitamins required) and they are available in higher quantities in other foods, such as meat; other vitamins and minerals which are added in synthetic form and not as easily digested. 

If nothing else, this experiment has encouraged us to add more variety to our diet and so, instead of buying 4-6 bags of nuts per week (no joke), we will probably stick to 1 or 2. 

Should you give up nuts? Well that depends on who you are and what is going on inside your belly! If you suspect you may have any “digestive issues” (these may manifest as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, excess gas, skin problems, or low energy, among many other symptoms), then it wouldn’t hurt to try a couple of weeks to a month without them and see how you go!

As a final note, if you were wondering which nut is best? It’s the macadamia nut, mainly due to the lower omega-6 content than other varieties. And the worst? Almonds, with the highest omega-6 levels.

Now I’m pretty sure that ever since I mentioned it, you have been thinking about the Coconut Pancakes with Chocolate Sauce and so here is a picture for you to drool over…..

And my plate afterwards.....

And what a small child would look like after eating said pancakes......

                                                             Image source: http://babymesses.com/baby-and-chocolate/

And finally the recipe…..adapted from The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson:

Makes around 12 small pancakes:
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 tbpsn coconut oil
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ¼ tsp organic vanilla bean powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • Extra water/coconut milk – around 1 cup

Instructions: in a bowl, whisk eggs, melted oil, coconut milk and honey. In another bowl, mix all dry ingredients then stir in wet ingredients until smooth. You will probably need to add the extra water/coconut milk to get the consistency right – add SLOWLY until you are satisfied with the consistency. Heat some coconut oil or organic ghee in a pan over med-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add batter (make small pancakes – easier to flip) and cook until browned on both sides. Place cooked pancakes on a plate ready to serve (if you want to keep them warm, pop them in the oven on low heat while you are cooking the rest).

Chocolate sauce:
  • 4 tbspn coconut oil
  • Organic cacao powder (1-4 tspn depending on how chocolatey you want it)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions: in a small pot, on low heat, melt the oil and stir in the cinnamon. Add the cacao powder 1 tsp at a time until you reach your desired flavour (careful to cool the chocolate a little before you taste it – I learnt this the hard way).

Warm berries:
  • 1-2 handfuls of frozen berries per serve (we used blueberries and raspberries) melted in a pot over low heat.

To serve: On a plate, stack 3 pancakes. Scoop over some berries and drizzle over some chocolate sauce. You may want to drizzle over some coconut cream as well!


As a side note: You may think we are quite strange, experimenting with our food and eating patterns, however, the profession we work in entails us providing nutritional advice to clients on a regular basis and we feel more comfortable trying things out on ourselves before suggesting our clients alter their diet. This way, we have a better understanding of what the client can expect and if they will benefit from such alterations! 

  • Ros, E. et al. (2006) “Nuts: nutrition and health outcomes” in British Journal of Nutrition, Vol.96(suppl. 2), pp.S1-S2
  • Sabate, J. and Ang, Y. (2009) “Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence” in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 89(suppl), pp.1643S–8S

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