By Gwenyth Shears
Milk. It does a body good…Or so the saying goes. But oftentimes people have sensitivities to dairy that do more harm than good. Thankfully, there are ways to get around the milk malaise. As you probably know, one of those ways is nuts! For those people who are lactose intolerant, have sensitivities to dairy, or just want to avoid it, nut milk can be a great way to get that creamy goodness without the cow.
Let’s face it. Nuts are great. That is, unless you have an allergy to them. If you don’t, they can be a wonderful addition to your diet. They are full of nutrients, and a little bit goes a long way; a serving size of 2 tablespoons is all you need in a day. Because nuts are the seeds of the plants from which they come, they contain all the genetic material for the entire plant. Nuts contain essential fatty acids (good for reducing inflammation and fighting cancer), vitamin E (an antioxidant), fiber and protein (to keep you full longer), myriad micronutrients (including zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins), and arginine (an amino acid that supports immunity and promotes wound healing, detoxification, and hormone release). There’s a lot packed into these little nutritional powerhouses!
There are some cautions when it comes to nuts, but with every downside there is a solution. Nuts are one food group that is often associated with allergies. If someone has a nut allergy, they have it for life and it can be pretty serious. If you are one of those people, I’m sorry to say, avoid nuts at all cost. Eat seeds instead (you’ll still be getting the same nutrient benefits). If you don’t have an allergy, go for it.
Eat them whole, eat them raw, eat them roasted, or turn them into milk!
Nuts contain antinutrients (phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor, and lectin, a protein that binds to carbohydrates), chemicals that protect the seed so it doesn’t prematurely sprout. Unfortunately, those antinutrients inhibit our bodies from absorbing the good stuff and can cause digestive issues. Soaking nuts before using them activates the sprouting process, which deactivates the antinutrients, thus increasing their available nutrition and making them easier to digest. Once they’ve been soaked, nuts can be dried, dehydrated, roasted, or thrown into a blender with water to make nut milk.
Another concern with nuts is Aflatoxin, a poison from the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Aflatoxin is highly carcinogenic and usually occurs when nuts have been shipped or stored at high temperatures (fungi like it warm!). To avoid this, it is preferable to buy raw nuts in their shells. If shelling them at home is a burden you don’t want to bear, purchase raw, shelled nuts from a grocer you trust and/or roast them prior to using (fungi don’t like it hot!).
Raw nuts should be stored in glass containers in the refrigerator or freezer. This will help them maintain their nutritional profiles and keeps them fresh for up to six months. If they are dried or roasted, they can be stored on a shelf in glass jars away from heat, direct light, and dampness. Homemade nut milk should be kept in the refrigerator and consumed within 3-4 days (store bought lasts a little longer). Nuts are healthful, they are medicinal, and they are plain delicious. Of course, we can’t talk about nuts without highlighting some of these benefits. Here are some of our favorites:
Almond: These tasty morsels are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, protein, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and Vitamin E. They contain antioxidant flavonoids and a lot of fiber. Almonds fight heart disease, lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol, and fight cancer. The book Healing with Whole Foods states that almonds are good for the lungs, they alleviate coughs, and lubricate the intestines. Some say to avoid eating the skins of almonds because they can irritate the lining of the gut, but almond skins can be beneficial for people who have lung conditions. A good way to help the lungs is by drinking almond milk. Before using almonds, soak them in filtered, salted water for at least seven hours or overnight.
Cashew: Cashews come from a fruit called the cashew apple. They grow on the outside of the apple, which makes them very easy to harvest. They contain less fat and more protein than most nuts. The fat that they do have is monounsaturated—oleic acid—which is a good thing because is helps protect against heart disease and cancer. Cashews are high in copper, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and protein. Cashew milk is more mild and creamy than other nut milks, which makes it great for coffee and tea as well as desserts. Before using cashews, soak them in filtered, salted water for no more than six hours.
Coconut: Coconut is one of the oldest food plants in the world; it is the most widely sold and used nut of all. Coconuts contain saturated fat, which has gotten a bad rap, but because this is a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid, it is beneficial to the body (in fact, lauric acid is also abundant in human breast milk). It is considered to support the immune system in fighting bacteria and viruses. According to Healing with Whole Foods, coconut can help people who are emaciated or malnourished, can help with nosebleeds, and can strengthen and tonify the heart. Coconut milk has a cooling effect on the body, it quenches thirst, and it helps with edema caused by heart weakness or diabetes. Luckily, coconut does not need to be soaked before use. Cracking this nut can be quite challenging, so if you don’t have a decent chef knife, it might be best to buy dried, unsweetened coconut flakes.
Walnut: Walnuts are also considered one of the oldest tree foods known to humans. They are rich in fiber and protein, are one of the few nuts that contain omega-3 fatty acids, and are considered food for the brain. They are high in vitamin E, manganese, copper, phosphorous, and magnesium. Walnuts also contain ellagic acid, an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer cells from multiplying. They also protect the cardiovascular system and help lower cholesterol. Walnuts help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, moisten the intestines, help relieve coughs, and support the adrenals and brain. You don’t usually see walnut milk in the store, but you can easily make it at home by substituting walnuts for any other nut. As they are more susceptible to rancidity, they should be stored in the refrigerator at all times, even when roasted. Before use, soak them in filtered, salted water for at least seven hours or overnight.
As you can see, nuts are pretty amazing. While we don’t advocate for eating nuts instead of going to the doctor, they definitely have their place in a diet containing whole foods. Whole nuts boast tremendous nutrition, a lot of which is carried over into their milk. However, because nut milk is made with a lot of water and most of the fiber is removed, the nutrient profile isn’t as robust as its whole-food counterpart. To get the most from nuts, eat them whole after being soaked. And to get the best-quality nut milk, make your own at home; you can control what goes into it and what gets left out so you end up with a more nutritious and delicious treat. No matter how you enjoy them, nuts are a great addition to meals and snacks. Eat (or drink) them in good health!
Fallon, S. (2001). Nourishing Traditions. Washington, DC: NewTrends Publishing, Inc.
Murray, M., & Pizzorno, J. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.
Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.