DEAR DR. BLONZ: I’ve heard from certain sources that pecans have about 19 nutrients, and peanuts only nine. Could you help me further by giving me a list of nuts and their nutrients? Please let it include almonds, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts and macadamia nuts. -- J.L., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR J.L.: I am also a nut advocate, having them nearby at work and home. A couple of issues up-front: First, I will be using “nuts” or “seeds” to refer to nuts, seeds, drupes and peanuts, which are legumes. Second, we often find the presence of an assortment of nutrients in certain foods, but that does not mean there’s going to be enough in a typical serving to impact our nutrition. For example, an herb such as oregano has a host of nutrients and phytochemicals, but only in micro quantities, as far as our consumption goes. They are there for the sustenance of the oregano plant, and will not make much of a dent in human requirements.
Back to your question: The information you request is in a recent book I authored for the University of California, Berkeley’s Wellness Letter, which is available online at no charge. The intent was to create a supermarket shopping guide that goes up and down the aisles, telling you what to eat and why. There is a chapter on nuts, and I list their respective standout nutrients. Check it out at b.link/nuts14. The coverage also includes a discussion of nut butters, allergies, storage issues and buying tips.
Why is it that nuts are so high in fat? Plant structures are made from carbohydrate, which is relatively low in energy and mostly water by weight. Nuts and seeds, by contrast, are primarily fat -- nature’s most concentrated form of energy.
This makes perfect sense from the plant’s perspective. Unlike animals, plants produce their own energy from the sun, but this won’t begin until the rays of the sun penetrate their leaves. The only way a seed can gain entry to the energy-production game is to have its own leaves. That means having a concentrated source of energy on hand to fuel the sending out of a taproot to bring in water, and the sending up of a shoot to develop into leaves to open into the sun. Once that is operating, the plant uses the energy from the sun to make carbohydrate structures, as this allows the most growth for the energy investment.
The logic here is that the successful plants are the ones that can grow above their neighbors, getting their leaf surfaces into the sun to continue making energy. This shifts, of course, when it’s time to produce seeds for the next generation.
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