Nuts are naturally gluten free, and contain healthy fats and protein. Their flavors enhance baking, sauces, salads, dips and smoothies, They can be turned into nut milks, nut flours, or nut butters. They can be used raw, or roasted. However nuts are used, they are a delicious way to add extra nutrients and flavor to any dish, or they can be a delicious snack all on their own.
Be sure that the nuts you purchase are organic and raw to ensure benefiting from the maximum amount of nutrients. Look to see that nuts are not pasteurized or irradiated, or roasted with preservatives or oils, which are likely genetically modified (i.e. canola oil), or full of pesticides and fungicides (i.e. peanut oil). Many nuts are grown overseas, so it is imperative that strict organic regulations are in place to ensure that the nuts have been grown without the use of chemicals.
Even better, try to source out nuts that have been grown a little closer to home. My sister-in-law sourced out a local hazelnut farm about an hour drive away. She was able to talk with the owners about their growing practices, and although they are not an organic farm, they try to grow as organically as possible. She got a great deal on a big bag, and now has enough hazelnuts to last her until next season’s harvest.
Nuts can be prepared many different ways. The best option is to soak raw nuts (in order to ‘unlock’ all of their nutrients) and then dehydrate them, either in an oven(on the lowest temperature) or a dehydrator, to preserve them while maintaining their nutrients. They can also be dry-roasted, or roasted with a small amount of oil, such as coconut oil. Nut flours can be pricey, and they can be made at home and then sifted. Because of the oils in raw nuts, they should be stored in the refrigerator or even frozen until you are ready to use them.
As with nuts, nut butters and milks should also be organic. While it is difficult to find raw options, look for brands (even organic ones!) that do not include additives such as carrageenan (here’s why), oils, sugars, fillers, or preservatives. Nut butters and nut milks can easily be made at home, although they have a shorter shelf life than store bought varieties because they are not preserved in any way.
(Some common nuts include: Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Chestnuts, Hazelnuts, Macadamia Nuts, Peanuts, Pine Nuts)
Seeds are also very nutritious. They contain beneficial fats, protein, and nutrients. With the exception of sesame seeds, they are much less allergenic than nuts, and can be a nice alternative to nuts in baking, as a garnish, and in many other applications. As with nuts, it is necessary to ensure that seeds have not been grown or produced with chemicals.
Seeds are most commonly found whole, ground, or as an oil. Smaller seeds are often hard to digest, and therefore benefit from, so they are best used ground, such as chia, or flax. Once the seeds are ground, the oils will oxidize more quickly, and should be stored in the refrigerator.
One seed worth highlighting in the lesser known Chia seed. Health experts have labeled it a super-food, high in fiber, omega three fats, and protein. It also has the unique ability to bind gluten-free dough together because it creates a gelatinous like consistency when combined with a liquid, often replacing the gluten and/ or eggs in recipes like muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles. A little goes a long way though; just one or two tablespoons is often enough. If ground chia is hard to find, simply grind it yourself in a blender with a dry attachment, or even a well cleaned out coffee grinder.
Seed oils are another wonderful way of incorporating beneficial oils and nutrients into your diet. Be sure that the oil is organic and cold-pressed so that it is raw and has no trace of chemicals (such as hexane) in the oil. Most conventional seed oils are produced using a chemical process (such as with grape seed oil) because it is easier than pressing the seeds. While companies are required to remove the chemicals afterward, very small levels are still permitted to be in the oil.
Seed butters have recently become more available, due to the need for peanut-free and nut free options. Some brands are better than others. Always be sure to read the ingredients list, even when it is labeled organic. I have had great success in baking cookies and even making ‘pb+j’ sandwiches with sunflower seed butter for my kids’ school lunches.
Or grow your own! Pumpkins and sunflowers can be grown easily, and although it takes more work to harvest, roast, and shell the seeds, these make a tasty treat and are well worth the effort. It has certainly made me appreciate the big bag of organic pumpkin seeds I regularly buy!
(Some common seeds include: Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds)
Dried fruits can add flavor, texture and sweetness to muffins, cookies, breads, hot and cold cereals, sauces, jams and even savory dishes. Or they can be eaten alone or in a trail mix. It is important to remember that dried fruit contains fructose, and should still be limited. A few pieces go a long way, and often if they kids are looking for a sweet after dinner, a few pieces of mango or pineapple do the trick. Making homemade fruit leather in the oven or dehydrator is another way of preserving seasonal fruits, and it also makes a great treat.
As with nuts and seeds, finding organic, preservative-free dried fruits is key. Some fruits are also coated with oil, such as cranberries. Be sure that the oil is also organic, and therefore GMO-free, and don’t forget to check for added sugars, and other preservatives. Papaya is a GMO crop, and therefore it is very important to select only organic, non-GMO dried papaya spears.
(Some common dried fruit include: Apples, Apricots, Blueberries, Cherries, Cranberries, Dates, Figs, Mangoes, Papaya, Pineapples, Prunes)
I would love to hear how you incorporate nuts, seeds and dried fruits into your everyday cooking, baking and snacking!