Nothing is easier for a paddler than to grab a handful of nuts of any variety and to hit the water with this perfect source of energy right at hand. But many people still believe that nuts are fattening and should be eliminated from their daily diet because they are calorie-dense and high in fat. Well, think again! Because recent research confirms that these delicacies are a nutritional bonanza and should be eaten several times a week in moderation. So let's go nuts!
One of the first food staples for humanity
Nuts are another amazing gift nature has been generously providing us for hundreds of thousands of years and were a vital part of the human and animal regimen, successfully replacing meat and fish when these sources of protein and fat become scarce. Yet, from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century they were almost forgotten in most parts of the western hemisphere, hardly considered real food because they were growing freely in the wilderness and not the result of human agriculture. And the fat phobia America went through from the seventies to the late nineties did nothing to rehabilitate their reputation.
Brought under the spotlight by scientists
But scientists brought nuts under the spotlight in the last 15 years with dozens of studies throughout the world which all led to the same conclusion: those tiny macadamia, almonds, walnuts, pecan, hazelnuts, pistachios and lovely pine nuts are nothing less than a life saver for many people.
According to the Harvard Public School of Health, several of the largest and long term group studies, including Adventist Study, the Iowa Women's Health Study, the Nurses' Health Study, and the Physicians' Health Study have shown "a consistent 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, or cardiovascular disease associated with eating nuts several times a week". Those studies have been so effective that now the FDA allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: "Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease."
An ideal food for paddlers
This is exciting news for the outdoors community because nuts are delicious and easy to carry in one's packsack. As for paddlers, nuts are easy to store in any hatch without bringing extra bulk and will keep for days, if not weeks, without refrigeration. They are also the simplest way to get a quick fix of energy when things get rough on the water and they transform into an excellent source of protein for a late evening meal when you have to set up camp at dusk after too many hours in the swell. 2 ounces of nuts (about one third of a cup) will provide around 300 calories and roughly the same amount of proteins as a 3 to 4 ounce portion of meat or fish when mixed with grains and vegetables; plus plenty of other important nutrients.
Although each variety of nuts differs slightly in terms of their nutritional content, they all offer more or less the same protective effect against heart disease (or even diabetes and some forms of cancer) because they are loaded with mono and polyunsaturated fat known to reduce bad LDL cholesterol and to increase good HDL. Walnuts also contain a lot of linolenic acid, which is transformed by the body into precious omega-3 fatty acid, also linked to a lower rate of inflammation in the body. Nuts contain as much as 4 g of fiber per portion (especially almonds), potassium, calcium, manganese, copper and some important antioxidants, such as arginine, an amino acid that protects blood vessels from constriction. They also contain vitamin E and, in smaller amounts, a powerful anti-cancer agent known as tocophenol. Finally, they are also a good source of folate, which is important for proper brain function. Those outstanding properties apply equally to peanuts, a member of the legume family that is nevertheless often associated with the nuts group for such similarities.
By the handful, not the bagful...
Although nuts of all kinds should be part of a healthy diet, they have to be considered as whole food, not simply munchies eaten in replacement of your favorite bag of sour cream and chives chips or Jalapeños nachos. We are talking about a handful here, not a bagful… Seasoned or salty almonds, pistachios or peanuts should also be replaced by their raw or slightly toasted versions (roasting enhances their sweetness and crunchiness) in order to avoid skyrocketing levels of sodium in your diet. Although nuts in their shell are usually the freshest, they are not very convenient for paddlers. Buy them cracked but still whole because the less manipulation they endure the better they will be. Their high content in fat makes it easy for them to become rancid. For that reason, avoid buying nuts in bulk unless you can store them sealed or frozen in an airtight container. Nuts usually keep fresh for a year after they have been harvested. Buy them from a reliable retailer and make sure you buy good quality that hasn't been on the shelves for months.
95% of all the nuts cultivated in North America come from Central Valley in California by a group of growers known as the Diamond Group, established in 1912. Other producing regions include France, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and China. Some growers in the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, have created new hybrid varieties well adapted to the soil and the specific climate of that region.
Celeriac and toasted walnut salad (serves four)
Preparation: Peel the celeriac with a sharp knife. Grate it roughly or chop it finely and put in a bowl. Do the same with the carrots. Dice the apples and sprinkle them with a bit of salt to prevent oxidation. Add to the bowl with currants and walnuts (you can toast walnuts at home). Pour in the dressing made with the remaining ingredients and toss well (you can prepare the dressing in advance at home too!). Serve this salad with whole grain bread for a complete meal.
Angel air pasta with nut pesto (serves four)
Preparation: In a skillet, roast the nuts for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the garlic, the bottled pesto, the lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper to taste and simmer to heat the preparation. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain it, keeping a little of the cooking water. Pour the pesto sauce on the pasta, add a bit of the cooking water and mix well. Sprinkle with the Reggiano. (Note: if you plan a 2-3 day paddling trip, you can toast the nuts and grate the cheese before leaving home to simplify the preparation.)
This is a make ahead preparation that can be served either sprinkled on yogurt with dry cranberries for a quick breakfast, on top of a bowl of fruit salad or to make a luscious fruit cobbler combined with fresh apples, pear or peaches sauté in a pan with a bit of sugar and butter. Very filling too…
Preparation: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the nuts in a roasting pan and toast them for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool. In a food processor put the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the nuts and mix quickly to chop them coarsely. Add the butter, vanilla and salt and mix until the preparation looks like bread crumbs. This will keep for 3 to 5 days in an airtight container stored in a cool place (like the bottom of your boat).
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