Name a more confusing food category than nuts. We’ll wait. Peanuts are one of the most common snacks to be mistaken for nuts – I mean it’s in the name, can they blame us? – but they're not the only ones. We’ll be unpacking the benefits of 3 highly nutritious “not nuts.”
A nut is a hard-shelled fruit that does not split open to release its seed. It develops from the ovary of a flowering plant after pollination – yes, plants have ovaries too! Nuts are often defined by specific characteristics:
- Hard Shell: Nuts typically have a hard outer shell that protects the seed within. This shell is often woody or tough, providing a layer of defence against environmental factors and predators.
- Seed: The seed, which is the edible part of the nut, is usually the primary reason people consume nuts. Nuts contain the embryo of the plant, which can grow into a new plant if conditions are right.
- No Splitting: Unlike many other fruits, true nuts do not split open when they mature. Instead, they remain intact until the shell is opened, either naturally or through external forces.
But this definition doesn’t stop us from referring to other foods as nuts! Including the following 3 foods – but really, who cares what you call them as long as you enjoy them!
Despite their common association as nuts, almonds are actually seeds that come from the fruit of the almond tree. The familiar almond that we consume is the seed within the hard, woody shell of the almond fruit. They are rich in healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals – but let’s unpack exactly what makes these humble seeds so good for us.
- Skin Health: Almonds are particularly rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that is beneficial for skin health. Vitamin E helps protect skin cells from damage caused by UV rays and oxidative stress, contributing to a healthy complexion.
- Vitamin E Content: Almonds are one of the best sources of vitamin E among nuts and seeds. Vitamin E plays a crucial role in immune function, skin health, and cell protection.
- Fibre Content: Almonds have a relatively higher fibre content compared to some other nuts. This fibre promotes satiety, supports digestive health, and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- Magnesium Boost: Almonds are an excellent source of magnesium, an essential mineral that supports muscle function, nerve health, and bone strength. Magnesium is also involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body.
- Heart Health: While most nuts are heart-healthy, almonds are specifically linked to reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol due to their high content of monounsaturated fats and fibre.
- Weight Management: Almonds' combination of healthy fats, protein, and fibre contributes to a feeling of fullness, making them a great snack for weight management.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Almonds have a low glycaemic index, which means they have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. Including them in meals can help stabilise blood sugar and prevent spikes.
- Bone Health: Almonds are a source of phosphorus, which is crucial for bone health and mineralisation. They also contain small amounts of calcium, another mineral essential for strong bones.
- Brain Health: Almonds contain nutrients like riboflavin and L-carnitine, which have been associated with improved brain health and cognitive function.
Cashews, like almonds, are not true nuts. They are actually seeds that grow outside of the cashew apple, which is a type of accessory fruit – no, that’s not a fruit you can wear, it simply means the flesh developed outside the floral area of the plant. The cashew seed is encased in a hard shell that contains a toxic resin, so the cashew nuts are carefully processed to remove this resin before consumption. Cashews are known for their creamy texture and are rich in healthy fats, minerals and vitamins.
Peanuts are legumes that grow underground, so they are not true nuts. They are part of the bean family and are botanically classified as legumes. Peanuts are often roasted and consumed as snacks or used to make peanut butter. They are a good source of protein, healthy fats and various nutrients.
- Rich in Healthy Fats: Peanuts are a great source of healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are beneficial for heart health, as they can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
- Plant-Based Protein: Peanuts are a good source of plant-based protein, making them an excellent option for vegetarians and vegans. Protein is essential for muscle repair, immune function, and overall growth.
- Nutrient-Packed: Peanuts are loaded with essential nutrients, including biotin, niacin, folate, vitamin E, and several B vitamins. These nutrients play crucial roles in energy metabolism and overall well-being.
- Rich in Antioxidants: Peanuts contain various antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which have been linked to reduced inflammation and improved heart health. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by oxidative stress.
- Heart Health Support: Regular consumption of peanuts has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. The combination of healthy fats, fibre, and antioxidants contributes to improved heart health.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Peanuts have a low glycaemic index, which means they have a slower impact on blood sugar levels. This can help regulate blood sugar and prevent rapid spikes.
- Weight Management: Despite their calorie density, peanuts can be a helpful addition to a weight management plan. The combination of protein, fibre, and healthy fats promotes satiety and reduces the likelihood of overeating.
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