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November 18, 2011 in Nutrition and Diet

I have to admit…there’s one food that I have a huge weakness for…nuts. I love nuts…Brazilian nuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, even peanuts although they’re technically vegetables and not nuts. If I was stranded on a deserted island with nothing but nuts, I think I would do just fine. However one major issue…my body just doesn’t handle nuts very well.
Well, as it turns out there’s a reason why I can’t tolerate too many nuts and it’s actually not such a bad thing. Here’s why…nuts have a high content of omega 6 fats and a compound called phytates that’s not so good for digestion.

Let me start by explaining a little about omega 6 fats. Omega 6 fatty acid is one of the essential fatty acids, the other being omega 3 fatty acid. They are considered essential fatty acids because our body doesn’t possess the ability to make its own and therefore has to be obtained from diet.

Now, getting enough essential fatty acids in your diet is vital in order to obtain optimum health. But the trick is to get the proper ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats. Not surprisingly in a typical Western diet, the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio ranges between 10:1 to 30:1, which is atrocious considering that the optimum ratio should be between 4:1 to 1:1…and really 1:1 being the most preferred.

The reason why there’s such an imbalance in the essential fat ratios is due to the kinds of foods that you consume. And it’s something even health conscious minded people miss. Which brings us back to the nuts.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you had to pick between eating carb packed baked goodies like biscuits, scones or muffin at your local coffee shop or a package of nuts for a quick snack…you’re definitely better off eating nuts!

Nuts are touted as healthy snacks and it’s used as a base for many “healthy” snacks, like nut based protein bars or baked goods made from nut flours instead of wheat flour. But here’s the catch…although nuts are better than grains, it’s not meant to be consumed in large quantities.

This is where “phytates” come in. Let me explain…many nutritionists and health experts warn people to stay away from grains because they contain three big offenders: lectin, gluten and phytates.

Phytates (phytic acids) are phosophorus based compounds found in all nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. The biggest problem phytates cause is mineral malabsorption, especially iron and zinc. (1) One study even showed that a diet low in phytates increased magnesium absorption by 60% and zinc absorption by 20%. (2) Phytates also hinders our digestive enzymes that help breakdown protein and carbs like pepsin, amylase and it even inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which breakdowns protein in your small intestine. Now I know why I can’t handle too many nuts!

Now, I’m not suggesting that you cut out nuts altogether from your diet. Although nuts have high omega 6 fats, if you’re eating a diet high in omega 3 fats and relatively low in omega 6 fats you should have no issues eating nuts once in a while. And even though nuts have phytates, it’s relatively small and unless you’re consuming large quantities of nuts on a daily basis, you shouldn’t have to worry about iron and zinc mineral malabsorption.

So in a “nutshell”(…pun intended) if you’re avoiding grains and legumes (especially soy) you’re well ahead of the game. But just keep in mind too much of a good thing is never good. The bottom line…eat nuts in moderation. Nuts do have good nutritional benefits and can be a part of your healthy diet, but just make for sure that it doesn’t make up the bulk of your fat consumption.

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