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Elements of a Healthy Diet - Legumes, Seeds, and Nuts

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Healthy proteins - Lentils lend themselves to a variety of appetizing dishes. Here they are formed into patties with grated zucchini, almonds, and sesame seeds. © Provided by DKBooks Healthy proteins - Lentils lend themselves to a variety of appetizing dishes. Here they are formed into patties with grated zucchini, almonds, and sesame seeds.

Healthy proteins - Lentils lend themselves to a variety of appetizing dishes. Here they are formed into patties with grated zucchini, almonds, and sesame seeds.

Photo: Seeded bread - Poppy and sunflower seeds provide texture and increased nutritional value to these pretzels. © Provided by DKBooks Seeded bread - Poppy and sunflower seeds provide texture and increased nutritional value to these pretzels.

Pumpkin risotto - Lightly roasted pumpkin seeds add texture, flavor, and a number of valuable nutrients to this savory dish.

Photo: Healthy smoothie - Crushed flaxseeds add fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and a nutty flavor to a raspberry and yogurt smoothie. © Provided by DKBooks Healthy smoothie - Crushed flaxseeds add fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and a nutty flavor to a raspberry and yogurt smoothie.

Seeded bread - Poppy and sunflower seeds provide texture and increased nutritional value to these pretzels.

Photo: Pumpkin risotto - Lightly roasted pumpkin seeds add texture, flavor, and a number of valuable nutrients to this savory dish. © Provided by DKBooks Pumpkin risotto - Lightly roasted pumpkin seeds add texture, flavor, and a number of valuable nutrients to this savory dish.

Proportions of fats in nuts and seeds - The chart shown gives the breakdown of the proportions of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats for some nuts and seeds. Nuts are generally high in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Photo: Proportions of fats in nuts and seeds - The chart shown gives the breakdown of the proportions of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats for some nuts and seeds. Nuts are generally high in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. © Provided by DKBooks Proportions of fats in nuts and seeds - The chart shown gives the breakdown of the proportions of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats for some nuts and seeds. Nuts are generally high in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Healthy smoothie - Crushed flaxseeds add fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and a nutty flavor to a raspberry and yogurt smoothie.

Legumes, Seeds, and Nuts

Inexpensive and versatile, these foods are nutritional gems.

Legumes, seeds, and nuts are all valuable sources of protein as well as being low in saturated fat and sodium and cholesterol-free. They are also good sources of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus .

The term “legume” includes a huge range of peas, beans, and lentils . They are important foods and have the advantage over animal proteins of being both inexpensive and versatile in how they are cooked, as well as being packed with nutrients.

Due to their high soluble-fiber content, legumes are believed to help reduce blood cholesterol. They also have a very low glycemic index which means they are absorbed relatively slowly into the bloodstream and do not cause sudden increases in glucose blood levels. This makes this group of foods particularly beneficial for anyone who has diabetes and those at risk of developing this disease, such as people who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.


Protein in seeds and nuts

Seeds are the embryo and food supply of new plants, whereas nuts are dried tree fruits, which are contained within hard shells. Both seeds and nuts contain 10–25 percent protein; they are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fat; and they are good sources of fiber, the vitamins thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and E, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.

Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There are a number of possible explanations, in addition to the known benefits of unsaturated fat on cholesterol levels. For example, nuts are rich in arginine, an amino acid that boosts nitric oxide. This compound relaxes blood vessels and eases blood flow as well as making blood less likely to form clots.


Complementary proteins

Since the protein obtained from most plants lacks one or more of the amino acids that the body needs (essential amino acids), these sources of protein must be combined with a complementary plant-derived food or soybean product in order to form complete protein. This is not an issue when animal proteins are also included in the diet, but it is important for vegetarians who eliminate most animal products from their diets. .


What is a serving?

Two to three servings daily from the protein group are recommended. Legumes, seeds, and nuts are good sources of protein, and offer an alternative to red meat and dairy. The servings below are for cooked legumes and raw nuts and seeds:

1/2 cup soybeans

1/2 cup lentils

1/2 cup chickpeas

1/2 cup kidney beans

3 tbsp sunflower seeds

3 tbsp sesame seeds

3 tbsp alfalfa seeds

3 tbsp pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp flaxseeds

3 tbsp almonds

3 tbsp macadamia

3 tbsp Brazil nuts

3 tbsp pistachios

3 tbsp hazelnuts

3 tbsp cashew nuts


Facts about soybeans

Soybeans supply nearly as many essential amino acids as animal proteins. They contain twice as much protein as other legumes and are a good source of vitamin A, the B vitamins, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. They also contain large amounts of isoflavones, which are phytochemicals with beneficial health effects. Soybeans are processed into a wide variety of products, including:


Soymilk

Available in regular, low-fat, and flavored varieties.


Tofu

Also known as soybean curd, this can be used in smoothies, stir-fry dishes, soups, and burgers.


Tempeh

A chunky cake with a chewy texture and nutty flavor. It can be used instead of ground beef or chicken in a variety of recipes.


Ways of getting seeds into your diet

Seeds are ideal for snacking—they are nutritious, portable, and low in saturated fat. However, if you are trying to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, you should keep in mind that seeds are high in total fat and calories.


Pumpkin seeds

Rich in protein, iron, zinc, and phosphorus, these seeds can be eaten raw, or cooked.


Sesame seeds

A good source of protein and calcium, sesame seeds also contain iron and niacin (B3). Mixed with sea salt, ground sesame seeds make a delicious condiment. You can also sprinkle the seeds over stir-fries.


Sunflower seeds

These are rich in the minerals potassium and phosphorus and also contain protein, iron, and calcium. They make a great topping for salads.


Flaxseeds

A good source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, crushed flaxseeds can be added to smoothies and baked goods. They are often used in energy bars.


Which nuts are the best?

Nuts are 10-25 percent protein, high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and a good source of dietary fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. Nuts are cholesterol-free—like other plant foods—but because all nuts are high in fat, and often salted, they should be eaten in moderation.


Almonds

High in monounsaturated fat, almonds are also a good source of protein, riboflavin (B2) vitamin E, calcium, iron, and zinc.


Brazil nuts

Rich in protein, iron, calcium, and zinc, Brazil nuts also contain the highest natural source of selenium—one nut exceeds the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI).


Cashews

High in fat (although lower than almonds, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts), cashews contain essential fatty acids, B vitamins, fiber, protein, carbohydrate, iron, and zinc.


Chestnuts

Containing less fat than most other nuts, chestnuts do have microminerals and potassium, but are not a good source of protein.


Hazelnuts (filberts)

Contain fiber, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E, these are a good source of protein.


Peanuts

Technically a legume, these contain more protein than most nuts (20—30 percent), and are a good source of fiber, folate, and vitamins.


Pecans

These contain fiber, vitamin A, and thiamine (B1), iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Pecans are also high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats.


Pine nuts

The small edible seeds of pine trees. Pine nuts are high in protein, calcium, and magnesium.


Pistachios

A very rich source of potassium, they contain calcium, magnesium, iron, fiber, and protein as well as vitamin A and folate.


Walnuts

Rich in vitamins, especially folate, and magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc, these are also high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.


Nuts and seeds and fat content

These foods have a high percentage of fat; however, being rich in fats does not mean that nuts and seeds are bad for our health. On the contrary, their fats are mostly mono- and polyunsaturated, which are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and in lowering LDL cholesterol. If you are following a low-fat diet, you should be aware that you will need to watch your intake of calorie-rich nuts and seeds.

Some nuts, such Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, and pine nuts, however, do contain significant amounts of unhealthy saturated fats and should therefore be eaten in moderation.

Brazil nuts, pine nuts, and walnuts contain two essential fatty acids that are particularly heart-healthy: linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. Walnuts are especially rich in alpha-linolenic acid. The health benefits of nuts can be undermined if they are eaten salted.

High in polyunsaturated fats, seeds contain valuable nutrients. However, they are high in calories.

A small percentage of people are allergic to nuts , which is why nuts must be listed on food labels.

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